MIAMI (CBSMiami/NSF) – A number of Republicans have criticized presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders for comments he made about Cuba during an appearance Sunday on the CBS news show “60 Minutes.”

When questioned about the Cuban Revolution by Anderson Cooper, Sanders said that it wasn’t entirely bad.

“We are very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba. It’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it,” said Sanders.

“There are a lot of dissidents imprisoned in Cuba,” replied Cooper.

“That’s right and we condemn that. Unlike Donald Trump, let’s be clear, you want to, I do not think that Kim Jong-un is a good friend. I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine,” said Sanders.

In a clip from an older interview, Sanders also pointed to Cuban social welfare programs, introduced by the Castro regime, as reasons the Cuban people didn’t rise up and overthrow Castro after the revolution.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio took to Twitter to criticize Sander’s defense.

Florida’s other Republican senator, Rick Scott, also took issue with Sanders on Twitter.

During an appearance Monday morning at Florida A&M University, Governor Ron DeSantis also blasted Sanders.

“Any attempts to whitewash the brutality of the Castro dictatorship is totally unacceptable,” said DeSantis, a close political ally of President Donald Trump. “It flies directly in the face of the values of the people throughout this state. And this is a senator who has spoken positively throughout his whole life about the dictatorship there.”

Republicans weren’t the only ones to take umbrage with Sander’s remarks.

Democratic US Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell also expressed her displeasure on Twitter.

The head of the Democratic party in Miami-Dade took it a step farther and tried to spin the remarks against Trump.

“Like Donald Trump, the Castro regime ignores the rule of law. Like Donald Trump, the Castro regime abuses its power for personal and political gain. And like Donald Trump, the Castro regime uses its office to enrich itself and its family,” said chair Steve Simeonidis.

“We must come together and vote to rid our country of Donald Trump and his authoritarian and Castro-like policies. Trump’s dictatorial actions disrespect the hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans who fled the Castro regime and have made their home in Miami-Dade County,” he added.

WATCH: Bernie Sanders Receive Blowback From Castro Comments

 

Congresswoman Donna Shalala is up for re-election in a swing district.

“He hasn’t been down here to talk to residents to understand how our community, not the just Cuban community, but the Venezuelan community, the Nicaraguan community, feel about socialism and communism. We have zero-tolerance for those regimes and that’s why we’re going after them.”

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio weighed in on Twitter.

“Unless the Democrats steal it from him, Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist is going to be the democratic nominee for president. That’s a really big deal because democratic socialism sounds benign, but at the core of democratic socialism is Marxism.”

University of Miami Political Science Professor Joe Uscinski said the comments came off as callous.

“Just because Castro might have had a nice literacy program, doesn’t mean he wasn’t shooting people in the back as they tried to escape from his dictatorship.”

The Sander campaign released a statement saying, “”Sen. Sanders has clearly and consistently criticized Fidel Castro’s authoritarianism and condemned his human rights abuses, and he’s simply echoing President Obama’s acknowledgment that Cuba made progress, especially in education.”

At a CNN town hall Monday night, Sanders asked about the uproar.

“But the truth is the truth and that’s what happened in the first years of the Castro regime,” he said.

With Florida’s large Cuban-American population, Sanders’ comments about Cuba could play an important role in the state’s March 17 Democratic primary and, if he is the ultimate Democratic nominee, in the November general election.

(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s contributed to this report.)

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