(CNSNews.com) – When Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died in November 2016, the contrast between reactions from the outgoing and incoming American presidents, and from unsuccessful Democratic and Republican presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio, was striking.
President Obama in a statement offered condolences to Castro’s family, spoke about his administration’s opening to Cuba, and assured the Cuban people that “they have a friend and partner in the United States.”
The statement, 226 words in total, was silent on the one-party communist regime led by Castro, and on human rights violations during his more than four decades or power, or in the years following his handover to his brother, Raul.
Instead, there was a cautiously-worded reference to “the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation,” and another to history judging “the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”
In marked contrast, then-President-elect Donald Trump reacted to news that the 90-year-old Castro had died with a statement noting “the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.”
“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Trump said. “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”
Two days after Castro died, Sanders – who several months earlier had lost the Democratic presidential primary race to Hillary Clinton – was asked about Obama’s response.
“Is it appropriate for the leader of the free world to offer condolences of a brutal dictator who killed his own people, as well as Americans?” asked CNN’s Dana Bash.
“Well, I think what we have seen in the last number of years is an improved relationship between the United States and Cuba,” Sanders began.
“The United States of America has relations with China. We have had relations with brutal dictatorships all over the world. The goal right now is to see that we can improve our relationship with the people of Cuba, to do what we can to improve their economy, and to make sure that the younger generation does better than their older generation.”
“So, you’re okay with him offering condolences?” Bash pressed. “If you were president, would you have said something similar?”
“Yeah,” replied Sanders. “Yes, I would have.”
On the same CNN "State of the Union" program, Rubio (R-Fla.), who like Sanders had earlier lost a bid to be his party’s 2016 presidential nominee, voiced disdain at a presidential statement “not mentioning whatsoever in that statement the reality that there are thousands upon thousands of people who suffered brutally under the Castro regime.”
“He executed people. He jailed people for 20 to 30 years. The Florida Straits – there are thousands of people who lost their lives fleeing his dictatorship,” said Rubio, a Cuban-American and vocal critic of the regime in Havana.
“And not to acknowledge any of that in the statement, I felt was pathetic, absolutely.”
In the days after his death Castro was feted by leaders at the United Nations and around the world, especially the handful of ruling communist holdouts and allied autocrats.