On the evening of Friday, november 25th, one of the world's most iconic and controversial geopolitical figures passed away ― Cuban revolutionary and decades-long dictator Fidel Castro, who died at age 90. Since then, American politicos, commentators, and journalists have been lining up to give their takes on the death of the late Cuban leader, but there's one voice that's been noticeably absent, so far at least: Bernie Sanders' silence on Fidel Castro's death is strange, given his ostensible status as one of the new leaders of the progressive movement, if not the Democratic Party itself.
Sanders, the junior senator from the state of Vermont, is now positioned as one of the most iconic and popular figures on the progressive left, once again serving in the U.S. Senate as an independent, rather than a Democrat. He picked up the Democratic label in 2015 to enable himself to enter the primaries, where he mounted a hard-fought, though ultimately unsuccessful challenge to eventual presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Party affiliation aside, however, he's undeniably one of the biggest names among the Democratic grassroots, and moreover, he hasn't been shy about discussing Castro's legacy in the past. In fact, during one of the Democratic primary debates, Sanders came under attack for a decades-old interview in which he praised Castro on education and health care, and commented that "just because Ronald Reagan dislikes [Castro and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega] doesn’t mean that people in their own nations feel the same way.”
As such, it's decidedly strange that Sanders hasn't joined the ranks of the rest of the political class in offering some level of response to Castro's death. It's a loaded situation, to be sure ― few world leaders are viewed as distinctly differently within the U.S. versus outside it as Castro is.
Lauded in some foreign countries (throughout parts of the African continent in particular) for his enduring anti-colonialism, while reviled by some of his own people and Cuban expatriates for his oppressive, often violent rule, to give an opinion on Castro's passing as a major American political voice is to be asked either to balance some very difficult contradictions, or to throw your weight entirely behind one narrative or the other.
But such is the tough task for someone aspiring to be a major player in American politics. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has already issued a statement on Castro, and one that didn't soft-sell his oppressive record, either. So too has Speaker of the House Paul Ryan responded, condemning the "cruelty and oppression of his regime." As of now, however, with nearly a full day having passed since Castro's death, Sanders hasn't spoken up about it. Perhaps he'll released some manner of statement in the hours, days, or weeks to come, but for the time being, it seems he'd prefer to stay mum.