Bernie Sanders wants normal U.S.-Cuba relations but is fuzzy on details

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a Miami rally Tuesday night.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a Miami rally Tuesday night. pportal@miamiherald.com

Bernie Sanders knows he wants the United States to treat Cuba like any other country when it comes to diplomacy.

“That is good for the people of Cuba,” he said Wednesday in a brief interview with the Miami Herald. “That is good for the people of the United States.”

What he doesn’t know is what that relationship would look like in practice.

Asked about three specific Cuba policies — the Cuban Adjustment Act; wet-foot, dry-foot; and the immigration status of Cuban nationals convicted of state and federal crimes — Sanders said he didn’t know enough about them to opine.

“I just don’t know all of the details about that,” he said.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters turn out near Miami Dade College before the Democratic debate on March 9, 2016.

The Cuban Adjustment Act allows Cubans to apply for U.S. residency after a year and a day in the United States. Wet-foot, dry-foot policy allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to remain in the country. Unlike with other immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, the United States doesn’t deport Cuban felons who have served their time — 28,400 of them — who instead live free in the country in spite of their immigration removal orders.

Sanders, a veteran Vermont senator and congressman, is not the first presidential candidate this election cycle to stumble on Cuba policy in South Florida. Republican Ben Carson struggled to respond last November to similar questions posed by the Herald. Like Sanders, he acknowledged needing more information. Carson has since left the race.

On Tuesday, Sanders declined to take a position on Colombian peace talks after he was asked about the negotiations on a Miami Colombian-American radio station.

He told the Herald on Wednesday that he’s traveled some in Latin America: to Cuba and Nicaragua as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, but also to Bolivia, Chile and Mexico.

The Vermont senator held his first Florida campaign event Tuesday in Miami. A few hours later, he notched a surprise win over Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton in the Michigan primary, potentially giving Sanders a boost in upcoming Rust Belt states like Ohio.

He faces a bigger challenge in Florida, where he’s not well known and hasn’t campaigned much, in part because Clinton has such a wide lead in polls.

In Miami, Sanders is not just unknown: He’s a democratic socialist trying to appeal to Hispanics who in many cases personally suffered under Latin American political regimes that claimed to be socialist.

Sanders knows his political ideology may scare some voters, so he’s gotten used to explaining his beliefs.

“Democratic socialism is what exists and has existed for many years in European countries. Almost every Western European country has had at one time or another — or today — labor governments, democratic socialist governments,” he said. “In many cases, those governments have done extraordinary things: They’ve provided healthcare as a right. They’ve provided university tuition free.

“Obviously I think any student of politics understands that democratic socialism is not communism, is not authoritarianism,” he added. “Most of the countries that I referred to, whether it’s in Scandinavia [or elsewhere] have higher voter turnouts. They are vigorous democracies.”

And what about the argument that those are small, homogeneous countries far different from the United States?

“Germany is not a small country. Canada is not a small country. It is maybe not as diverse as the United States,” Sanders acknowledged. “We can learn from other countries. We are different. . . . Those are ideas that can be implemented and should be implemented.”

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