Versión en español aquí.
I am the son of Cuban immigrants. I grew up in South Florida.
My grandfather was a political prisoner under Fidel Castro in 1961.
He passed away in 2017, and before my grandfather left us, I sat down with him to listen to his stories about his time in the prison camp.
That was a deeply emotional conversation, and a day like today makes those memories flash back into my mind. These disingenuous attacks against Bernie Sanders have been deeply offensive and hurtful, as I see these political hacks using my grandfather’s suffering and that of other political prisoners to advance their cynical political agenda.
My grandfather was a political prisoner under Castro in Cuba. I'm deeply offended at those using my grandfather's suffering to take cheap political shots against Bernie.
Bernie was referring to social welfare programs that were instituted in Cuba, and disavowed the repression.
— Carlos J Calzadilla-Palacio (@Carlos_Jesus07) February 24, 2020
In an 60 Minutes interview on Sunday with Anderson Cooper where he was asked about a comment from 40 years ago, Sanders made it clear he condemned the authoritarian government and use of political prisoners, and was only commenting on the improvements of social welfare programs in Cuba.
Bernie Sanders defends his 1980s comments about Fidel Castro in an interview on 60 Minutes. https://t.co/ySqvQKoiBU pic.twitter.com/lTwuXWp9sA
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) February 24, 2020
At a CNN town hall on Monday, he was asked again, and Bernie reiterated his condemnation of the Cuban government’s authoritarianism and restated his comment that a literacy program is good. His response was right again.
Bernie Sanders stands by his qualified praise of Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba: "(Castro) went out and they helped people learn to read and write. You know what, I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing" https://t.co/bYWUCRIz9l #CNNTownHall pic.twitter.com/yUlZjvIdPl
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 25, 2020
I’ve had it with people speaking for our Cuban-American community and simply using us as a political football to hurt Sanders, an honest and genuine candidate fighting for democracy and better living conditions for all of us. This is really just about undermining Sanders after he wiped the floor in a landslide victory in Nevada, where he won 70% of the Latino vote.
The establishment and political opponents are nervous because Sanders has won the vote in the first three states and is firmly on his way to win the nomination. The timing of these attacks make it clear that these are motivated by the fact that the rich and powerful are threatened and they believe these cheap political shots will work.
Politicians like Marco Rubio have sold out our community and built their whole career by stocking anti-Castro sentiment while voting for policies that have also hurt us. Their latest attacks are just a ploy help re-elect President Trump by fear-mongering.
Democratic Socialism sounds benign. It’s not. It’s built on Marxism. pic.twitter.com/VoFZlkSIgT
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 24, 2020
It is also important to point out that these attacks are not just coming from Republicans, but also from establishment Democrats. It’s very disappointing witnessing the political opportunism of establishment Democratic politicians who know better—participating in these disingenuous red-baiting smears, which are only hurting the party and ultimately helping Trump in the long run.
I'm hoping that in the future, Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro. https://t.co/Iwvmay9LOH pic.twitter.com/KT9sQ0pfkh
— Donna E. Shalala (@DonnaShalala) February 24, 2020
If we really take a look at what Bernie said, it is very similar to what past Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter have said about Cuba’s healthcare and educational programs. Praising these programs is nothing new.
The latest attempt by the media to smear Bernie Sanders is stating that Bernie "praised" Fidel Castro.
NO. What Bernie did is point out to us that despite how bad Cuba was, there were positive elements that we could learn from. Just like Barack Obama pointed out in this video: pic.twitter.com/C7iEhd9wdW
— Nicholas Ivanoff (@NicholasIvanoff) February 24, 2020
If the outrage is really about praising murderous dictators (which Bernie did not do), then let’s take a look at what Trump has said about the brutal dictator Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, and the journalist-chopping Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Trump traded love tweets and love letters with them, while attacking democratic institutions domestically and locking up children in cages- violating their basic human and civil rights.
Meanwhile, Mike Bloomberg praised the communist government in China and said their leader is not a dictator just as recently as last year.
Just remember, Bloomberg doesn’t believe China’s leader is a dictator
— Ryan James Girdusky (@RyanGirdusky) February 20, 2020
Bloomberg also has an extensive track record of supporting authoritarian leaders and policies, going as far as implementing some of these policies when he was mayor of New York City, like stop and frisk, which greatly damaged the lives lives of Black and Latino New Yorkers. Furthermore, Bloomberg used the police to unconstitutionally and violently crush peaceful protests, such as during the 2004 Republican National Convention and Occupy Wall Street in 2011.
Please consider who the real authoritarians in this election are, and it clearly isn’t Bernie Sanders, who has a 100% ACLU score and a consistent record of protecting civil liberties and political freedoms. The fear-mongering against Bernie on this issue is a big nothing-burger, or as I say, a big nothing-sandwich.
In addition, we should also add context to Cuba’s political situation, which is first and foremost widely misunderstood. As I grew up hearing about the downfalls of communism, socialism, and Castro, one thing that was clear to me is that people supported the reforms, even the ones who would later oppose Castro. What I came to understand was that the main issue in Cuba was the lack of democracy and political rights, not the social programs of healthcare and education, which did lift many out of extreme poverty and literacy at the beginning.
Yes, context is important, and it has to be understood that the Cuban Revolution was a popular uprising and social movement against Fulgencio Batista, a murderous right-wing dictator who was propped up by the U.S. and the elite class. Many people, including my great-grandmother, fought in that revolution to bring democracy, healthcare, education, and housing to the people.
As it’s been pointed out, although the programs made improvements, the authoritarian nature of the Castro government has been and should be condemned, juts like Bernie noted. We won’t forget those unjustly killed or imprisoned, but we must also not use their pain for political gain. When talking about Cuba, we have to make it clear that there is a nuanced distinction between the social issues and the political structure.
On the other hand, we can learn from the fact that a poor country like Cuba has the same life expectancy as the U.S. and even guarantees healthcare and education to everyone as a basic right. Let us ask ourselves one question: why can’t the U.S. (the wealthiest country in the entire world) do the same?
Are there major issues with Cuba? Yes, of course. However, we can’t forget the devastating effects of U.S. foreign policy and the consequences the embargo has had on the island politically and economically, not to mention the broader repercussions of U.S. intervention and pillaging in Latin America, which created political situations that forced our families to flee.
Cuba is the prime example of such failed policies.
As a young Cuban American like many others growing up in the United States, we realize that politicians who have claimed to be for our community because they condemn the Cuban government, have actually never done anything to improve the standards of living of our families. They have called any programs or plans to help the working people “Socialist” or “Communist” in order to silence any sort of change. Our generation, along with other Latinos, have seen how disingenuous these politicians are while we look at the profound injustices in our society and the gross levels of wealth and income inequality that has occurred.
Growing up, we saw how hard our parents worked and struggled to give us a better life in this country, living paycheck to paycheck, and now we have an uncertain future, when we are projected to have a lower standard of living than that of our parents. We are also experiencing and increasing amount of anxiety and fear about our existence in this country as racism against our Latinx community ramps up with vicious rhetoric from Trump and his supporters, immigration policies, and violent hate crimes like the El Paso terrorist attack targeting our community.
However, even in the midst of all of it, we are given hope by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who speaks to our needs and articulates a very different future than the scary one we are headed towards. When he talks about Democratic Socialism we know it’s not the spooky Castro Communism that our family members ranted to us about over lunch and dinner as we drank our café con leche, but instead a social democracy of the likes of Finland and Denmark where everyone is guaranteed basic economic and social rights such as healthcare, education, a living wage, housing, and a strong democracy. Sanders also talks about bringing people together, no matter our race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation in a movement of compassion and solidarity.
In Bernie’s agenda, we see what our parents came looking for in United States—the American dream that they were promised but were never granted. Our generation understands this, and we realize the power we have to make our voices heard in the political process.
With four more years of Trump likely leading to the final death nail on American democracy, we need to unite and come together as a nation to achieve the values we profess to the world. All of these politically-motivated attacks against Bernie Sanders fall flat to me and tens of thousands of other young Cuban-Americans who realize we are no longer in the Cold War era, and that it is our turn to decide our future—one that works for all of us and not just the wealthy few.
Carlos Calzadilla-Palacio, is the President of Young Progressives of America and an immigration activist. He is a senior at CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice Studying Political Science. Twitter: Carlos_Jesus07.
Marco Rubio is an asshole’s asshole.
I don’t speak for you, or anyone else. I only speak for myself. My context is that I grew up in a neighborhood of escapees — their term — from behind the Iron Curtain. I knew others in high school as well. Today I’m friends with a survivor from Romania.
What happened behind the Iron Curtain was appalling. It was monstrous. It was lethal. If the literacy rate was good, in my opinion, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the implementors of that policy were monsters. There’s no “but” that changes that.
Perhaps it’s my immersion in the Cold War that makes me unable to separate those two things and look at them clinically. For me, the Cold War was reality — I was immersed in it from birth to age 28. Like everyone else, I breathed a sigh of relief when it was over without a nuclear exchange. But it left an indelible mark on me. It isn’t and wasn’t an academic exercise. It was my life and shaped my life.
I can’t ignore that these people were monsters, whatever successes they had.
I was born in Cuba and I totally agree with you.
I am appalled that a Cuban-American who had a close relative that was a political prisoner would support a self-proclaimed socialist. One, who admires the one responsible for sending his own grandfather to prison, just because he wanted freedom. Oh, what about all the properties confiscated by Castro’s regime? Shouldn’t the owners or the heirs be paid? Who cares about free education when you don’t make $100 a month ànd food is rationed. Who cares about free medical treatments when the hospital are filthy, and there is no medicine. Oh, there is no toilet paper either, not even at home. Who cares when there is no freedom of expression. Who cares when you cannot rule your own life. Oh, there are no Home Depots or Lowe’s, so you can’t fix or even paint your house. Electric service is not 24/7. Wake up and get a reality check. You can write all that BS and compare Bernie to two previous socialist presidents. Actually, the two worse presidents that this country has ever had. Not a good comparison to promote your point, by the way. Reality remains that Bernie admires a man responsible for killing an unknown, enormous number of Cuban patriots, just because they wanted to be free. By the way, my father was a political prisoner. How dare you?
You didn’t read the article, apparently. Try again.
Except he never said he admired the man. What he said is he thought SOME of the social programs are workable. That is how we learn as a society, we take what seemed to work from a broken situation. Castro was a terrible man, that did terrible things, but as they say here, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Look communist-backed troll compiling information. Here’s some information for you. Trump will win again. End of story. Or end of salary for you.
Does this mean you never drive on an Interstate highway? Remember, Eisenhower got the idea from the Autobahn built by Nazi Germany. To decry one and not the other reeks of hypocrisy.
Yes, I use the interstates, and no, it isn’t hypocrisy. Even the Germans don’t give Hitler credit for the autobahn. Ike saw them for exactly what they were — ways to move troops and tanks around a large country that could be used most of the time by civilians.
People and things left in Germany as a legacy of WWII are treated very warily by Germans. Even if they were good things that came out — Ferry Porsche’s “People’s Car” (Volkswagen) comes to mind — they don’t like tying it to the legacy of the Nazis.
Eisenhower did NOT ‘get the idea’ of autobahns from Hitler. It was a natural extension of civil engineering. The Nazis also engineered the first telecast, from the 1936 Olympics, which does NOT mean television is a Nazi invention.
Give it a rest.
Actually, Eisenhower’s interstate plan was funded with Defense Department money. It was designed to be used by US military aircraft in the event of an attack on the US, with requirements for regular long, unbridged sections of highway that could serve as instand landing and takeoff runways all across the nation.
founding editor of ThisCantBeHappening.net
That was a perfect summation of what I as an American of Cuban descent feels every day. Good job.
I agree with you 100%. Many times I have had this same conversation with friends that happen to be exiled Cubans. The newer Cuban generations that are coming into the USA do not agree with the older exiles or their families. Because while the older exiled became rich and powerful and funeled money to the Republican Party the people of Cuba suffered because of the unjustified embargo.They helped to destroy Cuba and created suffering in the population while they received hundreds of millions of dollars to make propaganda against Cuba. inside and outside of Cuba.
Not all older exile became rich. Cubans have worked and worked to get ahead. The new generations does not know what it was like or the effort that it took. It is so easy to judge. Those that were born after the revolution do not know how it was. They only growing up lacking basic necessities, so it is their norm.
Pretty much BS your grandfather would have told you about indoctrination programs that is
The literacy they theach
Thank you Carlos. As a Floridian it’s refreshing to hear a perspective from a Cuban American that doesn’t betray a completely dogmatic disconnect from the depravity of the Authoritarian Batista regime. The passionate hatred for the Castro regime and anything that smacks of socialism may be well earned but the relentless vindictiveness I sometimes see can also be attributed to loss of status, privilege, and economic benefits that no doubt were associated with the support of the Batista regime.
[…] artículo fue inicalmente publicado por LatinoRebels.com y se publica con su […]
To those that Fear the word Socialist so much
Oh what a night, late December back in 63. That’s when we escape Communist Cuba my father, mother and I on a boat lost for 6 days in the south Caribien ended up near Honduran .
Communist Cuba. Nobody hates Communist Cuba more than me. But Please PEOPLE were in the 21st Century. Your brains are stuck in time.
America USA will never be Communist. But it’s better with social programs that will advance our our nation into equality, if you fear the word Socialist so much, then the GOP has won. Open your minds dont let this happen, if it takes a nation of Bernie supporters make it happen, SO BE IT. We are a democracy first .Don’t fear ripper , the GOP has use this falsehood for over 60 yrs and our parents believed them. Castro could have been taken out in one AFTERNOON but no he served the purpose of fear at our doors steps. For re-election
Motive. Castro won longest dictatorship in history.
Don’t be fooled
[…] The original English version is here. […]
The United States is not a Democracy it is a Republic.
The United States is a representative democracy. China is a republic.
Democracy means, government of the people,in Greek. Republic means, the people is king, from the latin words Rex=King; and Publica=people, thus Rex Publica. The United States is a “Democratic Republic”, but in practice, is neither both, but a Federal State controlled by a corrupt system where the richest get richer, and the poor more poorer, while the two historical parties, Democrat and Republican, are nothing more than showcases for delusions and deception.
The USA is a Republic. Those who don’t know that need to go back to school.
It’s both. We have no king (republic) and we’re (supposed to) be a representative democracy.
…semantic politics are generalizations.
The so called “European socialist countries” do not call themselves “socialist” models.
Best sample: Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a unitary sovereign state with a constitutional monarchy.
Norway maintains the “Nordic welfare model” with universal health care and a comprehensive social security system, and its values are rooted in egalitarian ideals.
I’m.a Cuban American and I’m voting for Bernie. Cubans with PTSD as a result of the Revolution and a desire to avenge Fidel continue to try to crush Cubans on the island and then complain about Cuba’s demise. However, they must be aware that we do trade with communist China and repressive Saudi Arabia and others. They see the situation as black and white and fear the same thing will happen in this country instead of looking at the issues. Just because a government in our eyes is atrocious doesn’t mean it hasn’t contributed anything worthwhile. Perhaps if Cubans in the US focused more on the wellbeing of their families in Cuba by helping to lift the embargo, people would suffer a lot less there. There is a lot of ignorance regarding what socialism is and how we have a strong constitution here that would prevent the placement of a totalitarian regime. They are shooting themselves in the foot. We must work with the Cubans and build bridges instead of trying to make them suffer so they will give up and go democratic.
As one of the Pedro Pan kids who were exiled to the USA by our parents to protect us from the oppression of the CASTRO regime, I am appalled by your article.
It is misguided that someone like you, whose family escaped the destitute land that Cuba has become because of the communist ideology, and whose grandfather suffered its effects first person, I can’t even begin to understand how your reality has become so twisted as to support the very impossibility the very ideology which destroyed Cuba is being considered in the USA.
Your grandfather would be disappointed in you. He couldn’t possibly agree with you about this.
Bernie Sanders never met a Communist dictatorship he didn’t like. If it were up to him, the Soviet Union would still exist. He has more than 50 years of this stuff. He can’t run away from his past. Pick another candidate.
trump and his followers never met a fascist or a Nazi they didn’t like. I’ll take a Democratic Socialist over an insane evil Nazi every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
I’m not a Trumpist by a long shot, but that is just flat out not true. Trump is a lot of bad things, but no Fascist. You’re not going to find anything like that in his background.
Sanders. on the other hand, is full of praise. He took his honeymoon in Russia in 1988 even when the Soviet union was about to collapse – and he has never backed off any of it.
He wanted to become educated of the Russian regime and policies first hand. God forbid we become better educated before we judge!
How about we learn from German system? It’s one of the reaches country with the strongest economy and an amazing health care.
And not at all socialist.
Germany is a democratic, federal parliamentary republic. The power to make federal law is given to the government and the two parts of parliament, the Bundestag and Bundesrat. And here in US the power is given to corporations, because the elections are bought to protect them, And that’s what Bernie is talking about and willing to change. The contribution to support his campaign are made by people and not pharmaceutical companies and other Corp…
[…] and genuine candidate fighting for democracy and better living conditions for all of us,” wrote Carlos Calzadilla-Palacio, president of Young Progressives of America and an immigration activist, […]
As a Cuban American I am disgusted by anyone who dares support socialism in the slightest. The horrors it did to my people and my the country my ancestors grew up in. It is disgraceful
There is nothing to praise !! Literacy rates from what the government allows you to read is not anything to be happy about !!! Are you going to praise Che‘s firing squad next for his desire to rid any resistance?! Your grandfather would be ashamed in you.
My father was a political prisoner and suffered at the hands of this monster and again NOTHING good comes for anything he did.
[…] books are allowed.” Other Cuban Americans spoke out against Sander’s critics. In an op-ed in Latino Rebels, Carlos Calzadilla-Palacio, the grandson of a Cuban political prisoner who grew up with Cuban […]
Fellow granddaughter of a Cuban immigrant here to say that I agree with you 100%… much to the chagrin of some of my Cuban relatives. What is really disheartening to me about the American version of the Cuban debate is that I don’t see a lot of Cuba in it. When I went there a couple of years ago and met the family that remains, what I saw mostly was 1) the embargo is not helping the country 2) Cubans are not helpless ideological pawns of Fidel/Raul’s regime. Because of the American “conversation” around Cuba, I expected to find a sad country trapped in a Cold War reality. That is not what I found. What I found was a highly educated population frustrated with the constraints put on them by both their own government and the outside world (read: America).
Looks like you dont know a lot about what happened in your country. Cuba was a FAILURE. Those welfare state programs were a failure, everytime those programs get implemented, they fail. Trump getting kids in cages? You mean Obama, right? Also, literacy improvements in Cuba? Of course, he had to indoctrinate a whole country, he had to teach them how to read first. It is DESPICABLE that you support a socialist that has achieved NOTHING through I dont know how many years in Congress, reminds me to Marx the Useless… Shame on you.
[…] In the lead-up to Tuesday’s Florida Primary (yes, it’s still happen) Biden is easily leading Sanders with all registered Florida Democratic voters, 63%-25%. He also leads Sanders with Latinos, 48%-40%, including taking 53% of Puerto Rican Democratic voters to Sanders’ 38%. However, (and we kind of expected this), Sanders holds a 47%-46% lead over Biden with Cuban Democratic voters, pretty much challenging the single-story Fidel Castro narrative that U.S. political media was pushing almost daily. We got a lot of grief for challenging that narrative, but we knew that the Cuban Democratic vote in Florida is a bit more complex. […]