Democratic Senate candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock is being accused of giving a pass to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro upon his death in 2016, calling the murderous tyrant “complex,” and comparing his legacy to America’s, in recently unearthed video from the time.
Speaking from the pulpit two days after Castro’s November 2016 death, Warnock prayed for the people of Cuba, and said “we remember Fidel Castro, whose legacy is complex.”
“Don’t let anybody tell you a simple story,” Warnock told parishioners. “Life usually isn’t very simple. His legacy is complex. Kind of like America’s legacy is complex.”
Warnock then compared America’s criminal justice system to communist Cuba’s history of taking political prisoners.
“If some people get slapped on the hand for the same crime and others go to federal prison, then we too have our own political prisons,” said Warnock, who has said America’s overuse of prisons is the nation’s most pressing civil rights problem. “Many of us have sisters and brothers who are political prisoners.”
Castro and his communist revolutionaries took over the island nation on New Year’s Day 1959 and quickly impoverished the country, turning it into a one-party dictatorship with a gulag. Castro’s regime likely killed tens of thousands of people, though exact numbers aren’t clear. The regime also imprisoned thousands of political opponents, and drove a million Cubans into exile.
Warnock’s Republican opponents also have turned attention to his connection to a speech Castro gave in 1995 at Warnock’s former church, Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
According to a Miami Herald report, Castro “blast[ed] the United States with vigor,” and finished the “the evening with a rousing rendition of the socialist hymn Internationale.”
Warnock was a youth pastor at Abyssinian at the time. His campaign has said he was not involved in inviting Castro to the church. It’s unclear if he attended the speech.
Warnock is one of two Democrats in Georgia trying to defeat Republican incumbents in a January runoff election. If both win, Democrats will take over the Senate.
Warnock was not alone in 2016 in failing to condemn Castro. Some prominent Democrats and progressive leaders even praised the dictator.
Former President Jimmy Carter said at the time that he and his wife Rosalynn “remember fondly our visits with him in Cuba and his love of his country.”
Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), in a prepared statement, called Castro’s death a “great loss to the people of Cuba.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went further, calling Castro a “larger than life leader” who “made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.”
President Barack Obama was more measured. In a carefully worded statement neither praising nor condemning Castro, he said “we know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and the world around him.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-Vt.), a democratic socialist, made headlines earlier this year when cited communist propaganda during a 60 Minutes interview praising Castro.
“When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing?” Sanders said, not noting that Cuba already had the highest literacy rate in Latin America before the revolution, and opponents of his communist government say his literacy program was really just a disguised indoctrination program. Sanders has a decades-long history of praising Castro.
“Even though Fidel Castro did it,” said Sanders, “it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad.”