By BRIAN SLODYSKO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, one of the top contenders to be Joe Biden’s running mate, on Sunday defended her past travel to Cuba and the sympathetic comments she made after the death of Fidel Castro, the dictator who ruled the communist country for decades.
Bass said she was trying to express her condolences to the Cuban people when she referred to Castro as “Comandante en jefe,” a term that roughly translates as commander in chief but is reviled by some Cuban exiles in Florida. Bass, who represents California in Congress, said she was unaware of the phrase’s political significance in Florida when she issued the 2016 statement, which called Castro’s death a “great loss to the people of Cuba.”
“Wouldn’t do that again,” Bass said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Talked immediately to my colleagues from Florida and realized that that was something that just shouldn’t have been said.”
Bass is considered one of the leading candidates to become Biden’s vice presidential pick. But recently her decades-long ties to Cuba have drawn scrutiny because of how they could play in Florida, a key swing state in the November contest with President Donald Trump.
Bass said she traveled to Cuba to help construct homes in her late teens and early 20’s. As a member of Congress, she has taken numerous trips to the island country to participate in cultural exchanges and study the Cuban medical system.
“The Cubans also have two medicines, one for diabetes, of which my mother died from, lung cancer, which my father died from, and I would like to have those drugs tested in the United States,” Bass said. “That doesn’t excuse the fact that I know the Castro regime has been a brutal regime to its people. I know that there is not freedom of press, freedom of association.”
Bass said she does not consider herself to be a “Castro sympathizer.” She said her views of Cuba are in line with policy under former President Barack Obama, who sought to thaw U.S. relations with the country.
“I think the best way to bring about change on the island is for us to have closer relations with the country that is 90 miles away,” Bass said. “My position on Cuba is really no different than the position of the Obama administration. As a matter of fact, I was honored to go to Cuba with President Obama. I went to Cuba with Secretary Kerry when we raised the flag. So there really isn’t anything different.”
She also said recent criticism of her by Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was politically motivated.
“I believe the Republicans have decided to brand the entire Democratic Party as socialists and communists. So I’m not surprised by Rubio’s characterization of me or of a role I would play if I were on the ticket,” she said.