Some leading Florida Democrats are furious with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for declining to call disputed Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro a dictator or recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president.
“I’ll make it clear,” Democratic Florida Rep. Donna Shalala tweeted. “@SenSanders does not reflect the majority of the Democratic Party.”
Guaidó declared himself interim president during a mass rally a month ago and immediately drew the support of the U.S. and some 60 other countries that did not recognize Maduro’s controversial 2018 re-election. Maduro became Venezuela’s president after the 2013 death of longtime socialist strongman Hugo Chavez.
The unrest in the South American country has rapidly become a fiery political issue in the crucial presidential swing state of Florida, which is home to an increasing number of Venezuelan refugees who’ve fled their country as the economy nosedived.
Shalala had no problem calling Maduro “a dictator” and said he “must go.”
Sanders prompted the latest backlash when, hours after launching his second presidential campaign, he was interviewed by Univision’s Jorge Ramos.
Sanders didn’t support Maduro in his interview, but didn’t say yes or no when asked if the Venezuelan leader is a dictator and should step down. He answered “no” when asked if he recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of the country.
State Sen. Annette Taddeo told Politico she was “dumbfounded” by Sanders' comments.
“He’s obviously clueless,” the Miami Democrat added.
South Florida Democratic organizer Vanessa Rolon took to Twitter to argue that “no one in Florida will take Bernie Sanders seriously” until he calls for Maduro to step down.
The Florida Democratic Party, while not mentioning Sanders, put out a statement highlighting that “Florida Democrats have been unequivocal: We recognize Juan Guaidó as the President of Venezuela, denounce the legitimacy of the Maduro regime and his efforts to remain illegally in power.”
A Sanders foreign policy aide told Fox News on Friday that "Maduro's violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society and violations of their constitution are deplorable and unacceptable and the United States must work with countries in the region and the international community to support free and fair elections, and to address the growing humanitarian crisis.”
Addressing Marudo’s effort to keep humanitarian aid from the U.S. and other countries from entering Venezuela, the aide said “no excuse can justify keeping out humanitarian aid. Bernie strongly supports the right of democratic self-determination, for the Venezuelan people and those across the world.”
But Sanders, through his aide, cautioned against the possibility of military action by the U.S., saying “the Trump administration even floating the possibility of military intervention is extremely dangerous and irresponsible, and we should be absolutely opposed to it."
Sanders – who once labeled himself a socialist but now describes himself as a democratic-socialist – years ago spoke favorably about Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega.
That kind of talk could be trouble for any Democrat running in Florida. President Trump won the state’s prized 29 electoral votes in the 2016 election. With Trump denouncing Maduro and slamming socialism as he held a rally Monday night in Miami, he could be making inroads early with key voting blocs.