It has been two consecutive weeks of negative news for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as his presidential campaign saw several polling gains evaporate in several Super Tuesday primaries, which led to primary opponent Joe Biden making headlines for unexpected primary wins. Sanders also endured bipartisan criticism over his past praise of Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro, when the senator highlighted literacy gains made under Castro’s rule.
A former political hostage, Alan Gross, told National Public Radio that Sanders praised the Cuban dictatorship while meeting with Gross in prison. Gross was a U.S. citizen imprisoned by the Cuban government in 2009 after the Cuban government’s claimed that he was a spy. He worked as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development distributing telecommunications equipment in Cuba when he was arrested. He lost five teeth and over 100 pounds during his imprisonment. Gross was released from prison in 2014 and he has denied the spying charges to this day.
A congressional delegation visited Gross in a Cuban prison in 2014, five years after he was imprisoned, where Sanders allegedly praised Cuba. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and then-Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) were also a part of the delegation, and met with Gross for an hour. Gross said that Sanders told him, “I don’t know what’s so wrong with this country.”
Sanders’ campaign declined to comment, as did Tester, but National Public Radio wrote that a source close to Heitkamp said, “Sanders seemed to disregard the meeting with Gross and that an uncomfortable exchange occurred, but did not remember the exact remark.”
Gross said, “I just think, you know, it was a stupid thing for him to do.” He continued, “First, how could he not have seen the incredible deterioration of what was once the grandeur of the pre-Castro era. And two, how could be so insensitive to make that remark to a political hostage — me!”
Among the mainstream media, only National Public Radio and Fox News covered Gross’s criticism of Sanders. Gross’s comments should be amplified by the media, particularly after Sanders defended his comments about Castro and Cuban gains in literacy under Castro’s rule. It was disappointing to observe little media coverage of Gross’s experience with Sanders while in a Cuban prison.
Gross’s comments to National Public Radio demonstrate why his criticism should be relevant and reported on. He said, “I mean, it’s relevant now. The guy’s running for president of the United States…And for him to make those statements demonstrating a basic lack of a grasp on reality is problematic to me.” The rest of the mainstream media should report on Gross’s criticism and provide context of why it matters, mainly because Sanders demonstrated a lack of concern for an imprisoned American civilian in a Cuban prison and ignored the dangers of Cuban communist governance.