Gov. DeSantis: Sanders’ ‘whitewash’ of Cuban government ‘totally unacceptable’ to Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared on the Florida A&M University campus on Feb. 24., 2020, flanked by university officials and members of the Legislature. Credit: Michael Moline

Gov. Ron DeSantis bludgeoned Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders Monday over the Vermont senator’s qualified defense, during a 60 Minutes interview, of left-wing governments in Latin America, including Cuba and Nicaragua.

During the interview aired by CBS on Sunday night, Sanders criticized abuses by the Cuban and Nicaraguan governments, but also praised their advances in education and health care.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but, you know, it’s simply unfair to say everything is bad,” Sanders said.

The comments by Sanders – now the front-runner in the Democratic race for president – prompted DeSantis, who has cut back access to state capital reporters of late, to pause before touring a new student center under construction at Florida A&M University to denounce the senator. Florida’s presidential preference primary looms on March 17.

“Any attempts to whitewash the brutality of the Castro dictatorship is totally unacceptable. It flies directly in the face of the values of people throughout this state,” the governor told reporters.

“This is a senator who has spoken positively throughout his whole life about the dictatorship there. He spoke positively about Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro. He’s been a longtime supporter of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. And that’s just unacceptable,” DeSantis said.

“I think we just need to speak with a clear voice on that.”

Sanders visited Cuba and Nicaragua during the 1980s, when the Reagan administration supported paramilitary “Contra” forces opposing Nicaragua’s Sandinista government amid reports of human rights violations by U.S-backed forces there and elsewhere within Central America.

The U.S. campaign would blow up into the Iran-Contra scandal late during Reagan’s second term.

Sanders’ praise for elements of the leftist program in Latin America may outweigh his denunciation of authoritarianism to Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan exiles and their descendants living in Florida, many of them fiercely opposed to their home-nation governments, and who comprise a potent voting bloc.

“It’s bad enough that this was happening throughout his life,” DeSantis said. “This is just who he is. That doesn’t sit well with me, and I know that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people throughout the state of Florida.”

Asked about reports that intelligence community sources had briefed Congress about Russian efforts to interfere with the 2020 elections to benefit President Trump, his political mentor, DeSantis was dismissive.

“Actually, there wasn’t evidence to base that off of,” the governor said.

“I don’t know necessarily what’s going on. We, obviously, have done a lot on election security here. We’re going to continue to do it. There has been a lot going on to try to do things good,” he continued.

“But I also think that how this was handled the last few years, particularly by the press, I think there were a lot of rumors put out, a lot of anonymous sources, and it’s meant to basically create a divisive narrative. I would just focus on facts rather than, you know, what some third-hand source might have said.”