Exclusive – Cuban Ex-Political Prisoners to DNC: Bernie Sanders Should Apologize for Praising Castro

SAN ANTONIO, TX - FEBRUARY 22: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raises his fist as he arrives onstage after winning the Nevada caucuses during a campaign rally at Cowboys Dancehall on February 22, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. With early voting underway in Texas, Sanders is holding four …
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Four former Cuban political prisoners, who spent a combined 81 years in prison for their opposition to communism, have sent a letter to Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez condemning presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for praising the late dictator Fidel Castro.

In remarks to 60 Minutes Sunday and in subsequent remarks on Monday, Sanders insisted that it was “unfair” to categorically condemn the Castro family’s over half-century-long stranglehold over Cuba, claiming that Fidel Castro imposed a successful “literacy program” on the country.

The former political prisoners note in their letter that Cuba had high literacy rates and was the region’s wealthiest country before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. They also note that the price Cubans paid for the economic collapse under Castro, which Sanders appeared to praise as a success, was the mass murder of thousands of dissidents, imprisonment in tropical gulags, and a total lack of freedom of expression.

The former political prisoners also note that Cuba’s healthcare system relies on a form of modern slavery in which Cuba pays for diplomatic support from the developing world by sending doctors to work as slaves in dangerous conditions.

“As former political prisoners who served many year in Fidel Castro’s prisons, enduring tortures, beatings, years of solitary confinement, and inhuman treatment, we are offended that a presidential candidate of your party dared to praise a tyrant who shed so much blood of innocent Cubans,” the writers of the letter assert.

“Mr. Sanders either lies or ignores the events in Cuba. Socialism is the worst political system any country may go through,” the writers continue:

Cuba had 12 universities and 87% of literacy. Cuba did not need Castro’s “literacy program.” What the tyrant did, in fact, was implement a “political indoctrination program” to deceive innocent peasants. Even today, if you look at a reading textbook of elementary education, you can see that indoctrination is at the core of the educational system imposed by the Castro regime.

Mr. Sanders praises the Education and Healthcare systems in the island, but is it any good that, besides mandatory indoctrination, only students who are members of the political organizations of the regime are allowed access to higher education? Does Mr. Sanders know that Special Rapporteurs of United Nations have sent letters to the Cuban regime complaining that Cuban doctors have become modern slaves? The regime sends doctors to work at other countries and the regime collects 75% to 90% of their wages. In addition, their passports are removed and keep them all under close surveillance to prevent any “desertion.”

“Mr. Perez, the suffering of the Cuban people under the socialist regime of the Castro brothers has been so intense and long, that the least remedy for Mr. Sanders’ indolence is a public apology,” the former political prisoners assert. “Mr. Bernie Sanders has all the right to profess any political ideology he likes, but no right at all to lie about the crimes and ills the policies of Fidel Castro, his brother, and their political system have caused to millions of Cubans, most of them now U.S. citizens.”

They conclude with a warning that Sanders’ rhetoric is not only offensive to Cuban refugees and survivors of communism, but to the Democrat Party, which has long struggled to distance itself from the far left in the eyes of many Latino voters.

“We are not the only ones hurt by Sanders’ words. The Democrat Party that you preside over is also hurt when the truth is distorted so blatantly as Mr. Sanders, a presidential candidate of your party, has done. We would like to hear his apology, but do not expect it. Socialists are usually arrogant,” the writers conclude.

The letter is signed by Luis Zúñiga, Ernesto Díaz, Ángel Defana, and Jorge Luis García, known more commonly by the name Antúnez.

Zúñiga spent 19 years in prison for opposition to the regime and has repeatedly testified to the extensive use of torture in Cuban political prison, including the use of electroshock and water deprivation. Díaz, a former fisherman, spent 23 years in prison after making repeated attempts to fight against the Castro regime and liberate Cuba; he went on to right a volume of children’s poetry that has become a classic in Latin American youth literature. Defana spent 22 years in prison for similarly participating in efforts to organize groups to overthrow Castro; while in prison, the Castro regime banned his family and friends from visiting for much of the over two decades he spent behind bars. Antúnez spent 17 years in prison from 1990-2007 for organizing peaceful protests against the regime and has since continued to suffer persecution for remaining outspoken at public human rights events.

Sanders has repeatedly defended the violent, repressive regime in Cuba under Fidel Castro. On 60 Minutes, Sanders responded to a challenge on comments he made decades ago praising the regime by repeating his support.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, 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?” Sanders said.

Challenged again on these comments on CNN Monday, Sanders extended his support of communism to China.

“[W]hen Fidel Castro first came to power … he initiated a major literacy program. There [were] a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate, and he formed a literacy brigade … they 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,” he asserted. “China is another example. China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian. But can anyone deny — I mean, the facts are clear, that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history.”

Read the full letter from the former political prisoners below:

February 24, 2020
Mr. Tom Perez
Chairman, Democratic National Committee
Dear Mr. Perez:

As former political prisoners who served many year in Fidel Castro’s prisons, enduring tortures, beatings, years of solitary confinement, and inhuman treatment, we are offended that a presidential candidate of your party dared to praise a tyrant who shed so much blood of innocent Cubans, deprived all people of their basic rights, divided most families, confiscated all properties and businesses, forced into exile over 10% of the population, and impoverished the country to levels of subsistence.

After 61 years of socialism, the average income in Cuba is $20 a month, well below the $1 a day set by the World Bank as the lowest level of subsistence.

Mr. Sanders either lies or ignores the events in Cuba. Socialism is the worst political system any country may go through. In 1959, at the advent of Castro’s revolution, Cuba was on its way to development. Cuba was the top world exporter of sugar; the second-largest exporter of tobacco; the fifth-largest exporter of nickel and cobalt; and was self-sufficient in produce and meat. Cuba exported shoes to Italy and beef to the United Kingdom. Cuba had the third-highest income per capita in Latin America and the 40th in the world. In contrast, Cuba today, has to import 82% of the food it consumes.

Cuba had 12 universities and an 87% literacy rate. Cuba did not need Castro’s “literacy program.” What the tyrant did, in fact, was implement a “political indoctrination program” to deceive innocent peasants. Even today, if you look at a reading textbook of elementary education, you can see that indoctrination is at the core of the educational system imposed by the Castro regime.

Mr. Sanders praises the Education and Healthcare systems on the island, but is it any good that, besides mandatory indoctrination, only students who are members of the political organizations of the regime are allowed access to higher education? Does Mr. Sanders know that Special Rapporteurs of United Nations have sent letters to the Cuban regime complaining that Cuban doctors have become modern slaves? The regime sends doctors to work at other countries and the regime collects 75% to 90% of their wages. In addition, their passports are removed and they are all kept under close surveillance to prevent any “desertion.”

Mr. Sanders is also wrong if he thinks that Cubans did not rebel against Castro’s socialist revolution. In the first 24 months, Castro executed over two thousand people. Soon after, he began to execute most of his former revolutionary pals who rejected the socialist dictatorship. In 1962, just 3 years after Castro’s takeover, there were rebels fighting his tyranny on almost every hill of the country.

In 1962, there were over 100,000 political prisoners. Does Mr. Sanders know about the forced labor programs (Cuban Gulags) his beloved Fidel Castro built to “re-educate” the political prisoners, where beatings were brutal and starvation a norm?

In his first 4 years of socialist rule, he imposed a state of terror in the island that lasts until today. People, just for sending medicines to the rebels in the mountains, were sentenced to death. The simple mentioning of the words “firing squads” sends a chill along the spine of most Cubans.

Mr. Perez, the suffering of the Cuban people under the socialist regime of the Castro brothers has been so intense and long, that the least remedy for Mr. Sanders’ indolence is a public apology.

The best evidence of what the Cuban people would have done in a free and democratic Cuba if the socialist dictatorship had not existed is Miami. Cuban-Americans have attained magnificent successes in practically all fields. In politics: two Cuban-Americans have been lieutenant governors of the State of Florida. Of the 100 Senators of the U.S., three are Cuban-Americans. Fifteen Cuban-Americans have been ambassadors of the U.S. around the world. Tens of Cuban-Americans have been and are mayors in cities, not just in Florida, but in cities like Wichita, Kansas, and West New York, New Jersey. A Cuban-American is a federal Congressman for West Virginia and another for New Jersey. In science: the President of the American Chemistry Society is a Cuban-American. A Cuban-American is the Director of Spacecraft Launching at John F. Kennedy Space Center. A Cuban-American presided over the Regulatory Commission of Nuclear Energy of the U.S. In the military: A Cuban-American woman was Rear Admiral of the Navy and Undersecretary of Health. A Cuban-American is a general of the Air Force. Three have been generals of the U.S. Army and over 10 have been Colonels. In Business: numerous Cuban-Americans have led blue chip corporations like Coca-Cola, Kellogg, AT&T, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Perry Ellis, and so forth.

After so many successes, where are the praises from Mr. Sanders for the Cuban-American community?

Mr. Bernie Sanders has all the right to profess any political ideology he likes, but no right at all to lie about the crimes and wrongs Fidel Castro, his brother, and their political system have committed against millions of Cubans, most of them now U.S. citizens.
We are not the only ones hurt by Sanders’ words. The Democrat Party that you preside over is also hurt when the truth is distorted so blatantly as Mr. Sanders, a presidential candidate of your party, has done. We would like to hear his apology, but do not expect it. Socialists are usually arrogant.

Sincerely,

Luis Zúñiga

19 years in prison

Ernesto Díaz

23 years in prison

Ángel Defana

22 years in prison

Jorge Luis García (Antúnez)

17 years in prison

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