- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2016

MIAMI — Cuban-Americans living in “Little Havana” are perplexed by Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ call for a “political revolution,” and are exasperated that the Vermont presidential hopeful refused to take back his praise of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro 30 years ago.

“I really don’t understand this calling of a political revolution,” said Jose Cabanas, who came to Miami from Cuba 18 years ago and is now retired. “He’s promising these kids change, but change to what? Communism, socialism, that’s taking America backwards. It’s why we left.”

In Wednesday night’s Democratic debate, Mr. Sanders was put on the spot by the moderators who asked him to respond to a video taken in 1985 where he spoke highly of Mr. Castro and Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista movement in Nicaragua after a trip to Latin America.

In the video, which was first discovered by Buzzfeed, Mr. Sanders said the Cuban people “forgot that [Castro] educated their kids, gave their kids health care, [and] totally transformed the society.”

On Wednesday night, Mr. Sanders didn’t back away from the comments.

He admitted Cuba is undemocratic and authoritarian, but “it would be wrong not to state in Cuba they have made some good advances in health care,” he said. “They are sending doctors all over the world. They have made some progress in education.”

Those comments didn’t sit well with the Cuban population in Little Havana, saying Mr. Sanders is naive on the matter.

“Castro doesn’t know how to run a country, he only cares about himself,” said Kensy Alvarez who emigrated to the U.S. in 2001 from Cuba. “In Cuba, there’s no food. Yeah, you can go to the doctor and it’s free, but it’s not good care. The hospitals are dirty, there’s garbage in them — unlike here — there’s no sanitation.”

Mr. Alvarez, 30, who works in a barber shop along Calle Ocho (8th Street), is befuddled at Mr. Sanders‘ praise for the goods of Cuban socialism because nothing in his life has demonstrated the fruitfulness of it.

“This is the American dream — I’m living it here in America,” he said. “We can make something of ourselves here, the hospitals are clean and we can get an education. We are on our own, we don’t have to worry. That’s nothing like Cuba. That’s why we left Cuba.”

All of the dozen people whom The Washington Times interviewed on the streets of Little Havana, no matter what their sex or age, profoundly disagreed with Mr. Sanders that Mr. Castro did anything good for their home country and that communism or socialism had any benefits. His comments regarding Mr. Ortega being an “impressive guy,” also stirred frustration within the community.

“I can’t believe the stuff he’s saying about Cuba and Nicaragua — I mean my mom left Nicaragua for a reason,” said Mac Mercado, 23, who was born in the U.S. to parents who came from Puerto Rico and Nicaragua. “You honestly can’t compare the U.S. to Cuba or Nicaragua — nor would you want to.”

The majority of those interviewed support Mr. Sanders‘ rival, Hillary Clinton, because of her experience as secretary of state and promise to continue President Obama’s legacy.

All like Republican hopeful Marco Rubio for his rags to riches story, which has given them hope that they too can make something of themselves in the U.S. But most thought the Florida senator lacks experience and doesn’t have a real shot at the nomination.

Mrs. Clinton criticized the comments Mr. Sanders made in the 1985 video regarding Cuba on Wednesday night, and highlighted his praise for what he coined as a “revolution of values” going on in the country.

“I think in that same interview he praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves. I just couldn’t disagree more,” Mrs. Clinton said. “You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.”

Jose Perez, 49, who works as a car salesman and just moved to the Miami area last year, thought Mrs. Clinton was spot on in her comments.

“There’s nothing in Cuba and to pretend the revolution did something good, well that’s just a lie,” he said. “Yes, we have doctors, but the good ones have moved out of the country. I waited for 20 years for things to get better and they never did. In the United States you can do better, so that’s why I’m here.”

Both Democratic contenders expressed hope on Wednesday that the U.S. by restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba, could help it evolve into a more democratic country and improve the lives of the people living there.

But most of the Cubans living in Little Havana expressed doubt.

“I don’t see any changes — all these signatures and agreements between the two countries, it looks nice, but I won’t believe a thing until I actually see it and witness a change,” Mr. Cabanas said. “I’ve been waiting a long time and the government has stayed the same. Why would it change now?”

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