Cuban Immigrant Who Grew Up in Castro's 'Literacy Program' Scorches Bernie Sanders in Open Letter


Pulitzer Prize-winning Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago pulled no punches this week in an open letter to 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

A Cuban immigrant and longtime Democratic voter, Santiago castigated the Vermont senator Tuesday for his unwillingness to distance himself from previous praise for ruthless revolutionary and communist dictator Fidel Castro.

The columnist’s own life story was, Santiago wrote, like that of many Floridians of Cuban descent, something of an “antidote to [Sanders’] cheap, propagandist talking points on” the supposed benefits of oppressive 20th-century socialist revolutions.

And she had the photographs to prove it.

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Providing those very pictures — particularly a grade-school photo of herself seated before a revolutionary flag — Santiago wrote the senator about her early life in post-revolutionary Cuba.

The daughter of a schoolteacher and a middle-class man whose small-town business was confiscated by the Castro regime, Santiago was a social pariah. She and her brother were mistreated — even physically — by school officials for refusing to chant revolutionary slogans and wear the red scarf of the national communist youth group, at the behest of their parents.

Her family had seemingly lived under constant stress in the years they awaited safe passage to the United States.

Sanders’ support for socialist policy, however, would not allow him to be honest about such details, Santiago wrote. His “apparatchik views on Cuba” were, in her opinion, “as old and dated as the photos” provided alongside the letter.

“The least Florida Democrats looking forward to the primary in March deserve from the front-runner is lucidity, not more obfuscation,” she wrote. “But when you can’t even verbalize on ’60 Minutes’ how you’ll fund your signature healthcare project, pay for all that free college and child care you’re offering, what else can be expected on Cuba?”

Sanders made waves Sunday on CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” standing by claims he made in the 1980s defending Castro’s brutal rise to power — which resulted in the execution or mysterious disappearance of roughly 11,000 dissidents, according to The Wall Street Journal — as having generated some positive outcomes.

A key sticking point to this day for the radical left Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist was an education program some believe began under the Castro regime and was responsible for a roughly 15 percent rise in reported literacy.

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

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Sanders would double down on those claims Monday in a CNN town hall, telling the audience once again that the “truth” of the matter was Castro had implemented some beneficial policies upon taking power.

“There were a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate,” he said. “[Castro] formed the literacy brigade. He 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.”

“The truth is the truth,” the senator added. “And that’s what happened in the first years of the Castro regime.”

According to Santiago, the senator knew less about the truth of the Castro regime at 78 years of age than she had at 10.

She said the successful literacy program, often attributed to the Castro regime, had in fact been implemented in the early 1950s — nearly 10 years before the Cuban revolution.

Santiago’s mother had been a teacher during the program’s inception, removed following the revolution as a result of her unwillingness to partake in the indoctrination of young children with Communist Party propaganda.

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The award-winning author did not fault Sanders, however, for his lack of knowledge on the topic.

The senator was, according to her, no more than a populist demagogue — one who was not worth any more attention from key swing state voters within the Democratic Party.

“You are who you are,” Santiago wrote to Sanders. “A populist riding a wave of discontent, as unfit for the presidency as your rival on the other side of the political spectrum.”

She signed the letter, “Truly not yours, the little girl in the photograph, a registered Democrat in swing-state Florida.”

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Andrew J. Sciascia was the supervising editor of features at The Western Journal. Having joined up as a regular contributor of opinion in 2018, he went on to cover the Barrett confirmation and 2020 presidential election for the outlet, regularly co-hosting its video podcast, "WJ Live," as well.
Andrew J. Sciascia was the supervising editor of features at The Western Journal and regularly co-hosted the outlet's video podcast, "WJ Live."

Sciascia first joined up with The Western Journal as a regular contributor of opinion in 2018, before graduating with a degree in criminal justice and political science from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and worked briefly as a political operative with the Massachusetts Republican Party.

He covered the Barrett confirmation and 2020 presidential election for The Western Journal. His work has also appeared in The Daily Caller.