Biden’s potential VP pick Karen Bass has a Cuba problem
Fidel Castro has risen from his oversized, corn-kernel-shaped tomb in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery to play a role in another American presidential election.
This time, Castro’s ghost looms over Democrat Joe Biden’s all-female short list of candidates for vice president.
“The passing of the comandante en jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba,” said California congresswoman Karen Bass when Castro died on Nov. 25, 2016.
If you’re Cuban or Cuban American in Miami, this is what you’re hearing: “Comandante en jefe, ordene.”
Commander in chief, at your service.
They were the infamous words Cubans used when surrendering to the whims of a dictator who executed dissenters, destroyed lives and the economy and left this world with blood on his hands.
By praising the white dictator next door, and in doing so using the same nomenclature as the bootlickers on the island, the five-term congresswoman most likely at that moment buried her candidacy for the second-highest office in the United States.
And no amount of backtracking can change the perception that she has been pro-Castro.
“I’m not a socialist. I’m not a communist,” Bass told NBC News on Monday. “I’ve belonged to one party my entire life and that’s the Democratic Party, and I’m a Christian.”
She urged Cuban American voters not “to believe the lies” of Republicans, but the criticism and opposition are also coming at her from Democrats who know what’s at stake: swing-state Florida.
They don’t want her to be Biden’s running mate.
Bass’ praise of Castro wasn’t just a misfire, something she can cast as a regret now that her dalliance with Cuba’s dictatorship has come under the microscope.
Her statement encapsulated a lifetime of connection to the island that began at 19 with her volunteer work in 1973 Cuba with the American leftist Venceremos Brigade.
Although she left behind the brigade and the home-building meant to prop up a failed and betrayed revolution, trips to Cuba remained on Bass’ personal agenda as late as in 2018, she told The Atlantic. Never once have I heard her raise her eloquent activist voice on behalf of the oppressed on the island.
Nor on behalf of the miscarriages of justice, particularly those of Afro Cubans.
To name one, the execution of three Afro Cuban men in 2003 for hijacking the Regla ferry in an attempt to flee to the United States. Police stopped them, and no one was hurt. Four others were handed life sentences after quick, summary trials with no real shot at a defense.
Throughout all those decades Bass visited Cuba, the violations of basic human rights were being well-documented by nonpartisan watchers such as Amnesty International — victims whose rights Bass should have been championing as she does in the United States.
But, unfortunately, Bass bought into the propaganda narrative Castro wrote for himself, that he was good for the advancement of Black people. Too many Black Americans believe this, when instead they should be advocates for democracy.
A trip through Havana’s most neglected and deteriorated neighborhoods should end the fantasy of progress for Afro Cubans.
Most of the people who live in those perilous conditions are Black, and no, most don’t have relatives in the United States who sustain them; nor can they afford a way out of their misery. Afro Cubans are systematically excluded from tourism jobs where they could earn tips and hard currency, the Cuban version of apartheid.
Or take a look at Cuba’s one-party ruling council. It’s mostly white in a nation that’s 65% Black.
Had Bass, during her trips to Cuba, advocated on behalf of repressed Afro Cubans instead of seemingly working alongside their white oppressors, she might have been a great vice president for Biden.
It would be hypocritical for Biden, who attacked his primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, for his praise of Fidel Castro’s education system, to pick Bass to be his running mate, which for a 78-year-old candidate amounts to choosing a potential successor were he to die in office.
Fabiola Santiago is a syndicated columnist.