Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders “is not going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party,” Miami Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala declared Thursday, echoing the sentiment of many Florida Democrats, after the presidential candidate refused to denounce Venezuala’s Nicolas Maduro as a dictator or affirm Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate interim leader.
Asked directly by Univsion’s Jorge Ramos in an interview Tuesday if he believes Maduro is a dictator and should “go,” Sanders glaringly hedged. “Is Nicolas Maduro a dictator, Senator, for you? And should he go?” asked Ramos.
“I think clearly he has been very, very abusive,” Sanders replied. “That is a decision of the Venezuelan people. So I think, Jorge, there’s got to be a free and fair election.”
Sanders then turned the conversation into a condemnation of America’s past actions in Latin America: “But what must not happen is that the United States must not use military force and intervene again as it has done in the past in Latin America, as you recall, whether it was Chile or Brazil or the Dominican Republic or Guatemala,” said the democratic socialist. “The United States has a very bad record of intervening in Latin American countries. That must not happen again. The future of Venezuela must be left to the Venezuelan people.”
Asked if he would recognize Guaidó as the interim leader of the country, Sanders said, “No.” He then vaguely mentioned “serious questions” about the legitimacy of the election that resulted in dictator Maduro maintaining power. “There are many people who feel it was a fraudulent election,” said the senator, refusing to specifiy if he is among those “many people.”
Here’s a clip of the moment from the interview, followed by the full interview (comments start around the 12-minute mark in full video):
For many Miami Democrats, Sanders just disqualified himself from representing their party in the presidential election. One of their major concerns, as Politico stresses, is that comments like Sanders’ from Democratic leaders might play right into Trump’s hands as he has taken the lead internationally on condemning Maduro and backing Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Democrats fear that Trump may even be able to win over some of the Hispanic vote on the issue.
Among the voices condemning the Vermont senator is Rep. Shalala, who has recently filed legislation to help Venezuelans fleeing Maduro’s iron-fisted socialist regime and the economic crisis his socialist policies have engendered.
“He is not going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party. He has demonstrated again that he does not understand this situation,” Shalala told Politico. “I absolutely disagree with his imprecision in not saying Maduro must go.”
Democratic State Sen. Annette Taddeo (Miami) said she was “dumbfounded” by Sanders’ response, Politico reports. “He’s obviously clueless,” she said, questioning if he’s been fully briefed on the situation.
“Helena Poleo, a Democrat who’s a former journalist from Venezuela and is a Spanish-language commentator, called Sanders comments ‘disgusting. The Florida Democratic Party needs to denounce this now,'” Politico reports.
The Democratic Party of Florida has also issued an “unequivocal” statemement that, while not naming Sanders, directly counters his comments: “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,” the party said in a statement. (Read Politico‘s full report here.)