Florida lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are speaking out to condemn Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' comments about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
During an interview with the CBS news program 60 Minutes on Sunday, the Democratic presidential nominee was questioned about comments he made in the 1980s about the former communist leader, who died in 2016 after stepping down a decade prior.
“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. “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 was also asked why he thought the Cuban people didn't rise up and help the U.S. overthrow Castro.
"...He educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society, you know?" Sanders said.
On Monday, Florida's Republican and Democratic lawmakers spoke out against Sanders' comments, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American from Miami.
"Likely Dem nominee praised the supposed 'achievements” [of] Castro regime," Rubio tweeted. "He’s wrong about why people didn’t overthrow Castro. It’s not because 'he educated their kids, gave them health care' it‘s because his opponents were jailed, murdered or exiled."
Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell called Sanders' comments "absolutely unacceptable."
"The Castro regime murdered and jailed dissidents, and caused unspeakable harm to too many South Florida families. To this day, it remains an authoritarian regime that oppresses its people, subverts the free press, and stifles a free society," Mucarsel-Powell tweeted.
Rep. Donna Shalala, another Democrat who represents the very Cuban-American 27th congressional district, also condemned Sanders' comments.
"I think that he's way off, but he hasn't been down here to talk to residents," Shalala said. "He made more than a mistake, it's what he believes and it's unacceptable to our community, it’s unacceptable to anyone in our country."
A Sanders spokesman released a brief statement Monday addressing the comments.
"Sen. Sanders has clearly and consistently criticized Fidel Castro’s authoritarianism and condemned his human rights abuses, and he's simply echoing President Obama’s acknowledgment that Cuba made progress, especially in education," the statement read.
Sanders, who won the Nevada caucus over the weekend, is battling fellow nominees Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer and Tulsi Gabbard for Florida's delegates in the state's March 17 primary. South Florida’s roughly 1.2 million Cuban-Americans could have a large influence on the primary as well as the 2020 presidential election.