There was a key moment in the Univision/CNN Democratic Presidential debate in Miami on Wednesday.
SALINAS: Let’s continue with another question, Senator, if you don’t mind.
SANDERS: Sure. SALINAS: In 1985, you praised the Sandinista government and you said that Daniel Ortega was an impressive guy. This is what you said about Fidel Castro. Let’s listen.
SANDERS: You may recall way back in, when was it, 1961, they invaded Cuba, and everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world. All the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed their society.
. . . . SALINAS: Senator, in retrospect, have you ever regretted the characterizations that you made of Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro that way?
SANDERS: I’m sorry. Please say that…
SALINAS: In retrospect, have you ever regretted the characterizations of Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro that you made in 1985?
SANDERS: The key issue here was whether the United States should go around overthrowing small Latin American countries. I think that that was a mistake…
SALINAS: You didn’t answer the question.
It was a telling moment, when Sanders the ideologue refused to abandon two failed regimes he once embraced. Senator Clinton rightly seized the moment in respone:
And I just want to add one thing to the question you were asking Senator Sanders. I think in that same interview, he praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves.
I just couldn’t disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.
It reveals either a fatal naïveté or stubborn streak on Sanders part, since the GOP will seize on this and hammer it home all throughout the fall campaign should he be the nominee.
His supporters are attempting to minimize Sanders’ statements as only being in favor of advances in health care and education, but the reality is (as spelled out in the short video below) that Sanders has long embraced both regimes as models for Latin America and even served as an apologist for their abuses. Defending Nicaragua’s state of emergency and denial of civil liberties goes way beyond applauding advances in health care and education.
Today, when Cuba continues to be ranked last in the hemisphere on Freedom House’s and Reporters Without Border’s freedom indices, Sanders could easily have stepped back from her earlier comments. That he did not is telling and could be fatal for his campaign.
Links to the sources in the videos:
Megan Apper and Ilan Ben-Meir, Sanders In 1985: Sandinista Leader “Impressive,” Castro “Totally Transformed” Cuba, Buzzfeed News (June 25, 2015).
Illan Ben-Meir, Bernie Sanders Despised Democrats In 1980s, Said A JFK Speech Once Made Him Sick, BuzzFeed News (Jul 16, 2015).
Nancy Remsen, Sanders Siempre: What Bernie Learned in Nicaragua, Seven Days (Oct 4, 2015).
J. Taylor Rushing, Bernie Sanders praised Fidel Castro in 1985 interview: ‘He educated their kids, gave their kids health care, totally transformed society’, London Daily Mail (Oct 20, 2015).
Hunter Walker, Bernie Sanders’ radical past: How the Vermont firebrand started wearing a suit and gave up on taking over big companies, Yahoo! Politics (Jan. 17, 2016).
Michael Moynihan, When Bernie Sanders Thought Castro and the Sandinistas Could Teach America a Lesson, Daily Beast (Feb. 27, 2016).
Patrica Manzei, Bernie Sanders traveled to communist Cuba and urges a ‘political revolution.’ Will exile Miami take him seriously?, Miami Herald (Feb. 29, 2016).