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Bill de Blasio says he did not mean to quote Che Guevara at Miami rally

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says he did not mean to quote Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the iconic Marxist revolutionary who helped install Fidel Castro as Cuba's dictator, during an appearance in Miami on Thursday. 

"Hasta la victoria, siempre!" de Blasio said at a rally for striking airline workers at Miami Airport. The quote, which translates to "Ever on to victory," is associated so closely with Guevara that it appears alongside his portrait on t-shirts and buttons sold as symbols of revolution.

De Blasio later said that he did not mean to quote Guevara. 

"I did not know the phrase I used in Miami today was associated with Che Guevara & I did not mean to offend anyone who heard it that way. I certainly apologize for not understanding that history," de Blasio, who in his twenties was an outspoken supporter of Nicaragua's socialist Sandinista movement, tweeted Thursday afternoon

"I only meant it as a literal message to the striking airport workers that I believed they would be victorious in their strike," he said in a follow up tweet signed "BdB." 

Guevara, a militant from Argentina who became Castro's top lieutenant, is widely loathed by South Florida's large Cuban American population. Roughly half of Miami residents trace their heritage back to Cuba, which has been a one-party communist dictatorship since Castro seized power in 1959. 

Castro's regime imprisoned and killed thousands of dissidents, triggering a massive exodus from the island nation. When Castro died three years ago, celebrations broke out in the street of Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

De Blasio's comments were quick rebuked by some South Florida lawmakers. "Quoting a murderer responsible for death & oppression in communist Cuba and throughout Latin America is not acceptable," Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democratic state senator from Miami-Dade, tweeted Thursday

The controversy comes after de Blasio's aggressive debate performance Wednesday night, which the New York City mayor has been touting on cable shows and at events.