Look, I get it. If you're a fellow millennial Cuban American you probably grew up hearing your
abuelos bash Democrats — from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama — as comunistas. Over the years, the misuse of these epithets made them lose their shock value.
Our families' emotional responses to the political left is understandable. They suffered a traumatic experience under a leftist regime that promised democracy and then stripped them of their basic freedoms, stole their property, and ruined their lives. As they lived through these horrors, they also saw much of the world romanticize their oppressors — from celebrities to politicians and even New York Times reporters.
While I can understand why our families feel the way they do about left-leaning political parties, let's be fair: Most Democrats are perfectly decent fellow Americans who do not resemble Fidel Castro's murderous regime. I can say this with absolute confidence because I was one for many years and have friends and family who are still members. I also served on the DNC's National Platform Committee; worked to elect Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012; and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
This election is different. As much as you may not want to hear it, there is a lot more than a kernel of truth to our families' warnings when it comes to the leaders of today's Democratic Party as an institution under the ideological influence of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Though it took me a few years to come to terms with this, I ultimately could no longer reconcile the direction that he and others were taking the party with my personal values, political beliefs, and what I knew to be true — so I abandoned the Democratic Party last year.
That was my personal political journey. Yours may take you in a different direction, but here is what you should know about where the Democratic Party is today:
1: Bernie Sanders has spent his entire adult life praising the communist dictators who destroyed our families. In a 1986 speech, Sanders said he was "very excited" about the Cuban revolution because Fidel Castro was leading an uprising against "ugly rich people" (aka our families). He also said that President Kennedy's opposition to Castro made him "nauseated." When he went to Cuba in 1989, he came back praising Castro, saying that Cubans have an "almost religious affection" for him.
These are not Republican accusations — it's all on video. And Sanders was not a misguided kid when he said this; he was older than we are in his mid- to late-40s. Furthermore, when he made these comments, Castro's horrors — from the firing squads to political prisoners and even wanting to launch nuclear missiles against the United States and kill millions of Americans — were already well-known and governments all over the world were turning their backs on him and the Soviets.
Sanders wasn't just enamored with Castro and the USSR. In 2011, he published an article on his Senate website that praised Hugo Chavez's Venezuela as a model of the American dream. Last year, he refused to call Nicolas Maduro a dictator. Sanders has also lauded Nicaraguan ruler Daniel Ortega's violent regime and absurdly compared him to Abraham Lincoln. Throughout the 1980s, Sanders even campaigned for open communists running for president of the United States. None of this is normal.
2: Sanders whitewashed Castro with a "literacy program." It is morally grotesque for anyone — let alone an American presidential candidate — to downplay the atrocities of the Castro regime by pointing to libraries he built. Just like we don't praise segregationist Gov. George Wallace for Alabama's "anti-poverty programs" or Hitler for the autobahn, what Castro did to his own people and millions of others throughout the region was so terrible that any social "accomplishment" becomes trivial.
Sanders was also parroting communist propaganda. The fact is that Castro's "achievements" were not all they were made out to be. According to a United Nations report, Cuba already had one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America before Castro's communist revolution and its gains in the years since have been comparable to those of peer democratic nations. He also neglected to mention that the "literacy campaign" was forced upon Cubans as an indoctrination effort to turn campesinos and children into Marxists. As retired University of Miami professor Dr. Andy Gomez explained, "Contrary to what Senator Bernie Sanders said, the literacy campaign used by the Castro regime was part of their strategic plan to indoctrinate the Cuban people by using education at all levels in support of a Marxist ideology."
3: Europe and Canada are not socialist. If I had a dollar for every time someone has said socialism and pointed to Europe and Canada, or government services like fire departments, I, too, could buy a lakeside home in Vermont. Contrary to what you've been told, the word "socialism" has a fairly specific definition: collective ownership of the means of production. In other words, an economy where major industries are controlled by the government or collectively (akin to government-mandated co-ops).
No European country has this system. The Scandinavians tried variations of it in the 1970s, failed, and abandoned the experiment. Today, countries like Denmark have social democracy, not democratic socialism, which is what Sanders is proposing. The terms sound similar but the differences between the two are significant: In social democracies you pay high taxes, but you can still own your own business and have capitalism. The government does not try to micromanage the economy. As I will explain in the following point, democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders promote economic systems that are much closer to the socialist models that have failed in Cuba and elsewhere because they want to fundamentally upend capitalism, not reform it.
4: Bernie Sanders is a Marxist, not a European-style social democrat. For all the time Sanders spends claiming that he only wants the United States to be more like Denmark, the details of his policies are very different from those in Northern Europe or the U.K. As British economist Ryan Bourne recently noted, Sanders agenda is "far more radical" than even that of socialist Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party.
- Yes, Scandinavians have public health care options, but Sanders proposes to go much farther and ban private health insurance. No Scandinavian country does this.
- Sanders wants to raise corporate taxes to 35 percent, the same rate Cuba charges foreign companies. Scandinavia's rate is 22 percent (almost identical to our 21 percent).
- Sanders would force 45% of corporate boards to be "socialized" (or employee controlled). The most they do in Scandinavia is 33% and countries like the U.K. have no such requirement.
- Sanders would push public sector employment levels to about 50% of the U.S. labor force. The largest public sector as a share of the labor force in Scandinavia is Norway's 30%.
- Sanders would force companies across the board to socialize 20% of their corporate stock. No Scandinavian country does this.
- Sanders and his supporters want to nationalize major segments of the American economy, meaning to make them government-owned as they are in Cuba. Most of Europe has been moving away from this for decades. In fact, the Scandinavians tried this in the 1970s and it was a disaster.
Sanders' programs — from "Medicare for All" to the Green New Deal and Guaranteed Federal Jobs — would crush working- and middle-class families with taxes well beyond European levels. Moreover, he over-simplifies Europe's social welfare state models, which can vary tremendously by country. For instance, Switzerland has an entirely private health insurance system. The Germans have a mixed public-private model while the Dutch rely on a hybrid of private health insurance and non-profits. Yet Sanders insists on a government-run scheme that no country (besides places like Cuba) has. These are not the ideas of a pragmatist who just wants us to be a little more like Europe. They are the musings of a radical Marxist ideologue who has been enamored with communist dictatorships his entire adult life.
You may not like what your family has said about Democrats in the past, but this year, they have a point. Bernie Sanders now controls the Democratic Party and is selling a bait-and-switch scam that promises Europe but delivers policies that look a lot more like those that our loved ones fled. America is already great country and to make it better we do not need to go down the road of socialism.
To support someone who applauded the likes of Castro, Maduro, Chavez, and Ortega while these monsters were torturing our families and forcing them into exile would be a slap in the face to every man, woman, and child who has fought and died in the hope of living in freedom.
We do not have to always agree with our parents and abuelos, but we do owe them respect. The least we can do is spare them the indignity of electing a man like Bernie Sanders as president of the United States.