Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is standing by controversial comments he made in 1985 praising communist Cuba and its then-leader, Fidel Castro.
The comments received media coverage during the 2016 Democratic campaign but are in the spotlight again with Sanders’ recent success in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. A self-described Democratic Socialist, he is considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday played a clip of the ‘85 comments showing Sanders saying Castro “educated the kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society.” At the time, Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vt.
Bernie Sanders defends his 1980s comments about Fidel Castro in an interview on 60 Minutes. https://t.co/ySqvQKoiBU pic.twitter.com/lTwuXWp9sA
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) February 24, 2020
Anderson Cooper of 60 Minutes noted that Sanders, in the 1980s, also “had some positive things to say about the former Soviet Union and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.” The Sandinistas were a socialist party backed by communist countries.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know … it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” Sanders told Cooper. “When Fidel Castro came into office you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing – even though Fidel Castro did it?”
Cooper interjected: “A lot of dissidents [were] imprisoned in Cuba.”
“That’s right and we condemn that,” Sanders responded. “Unlike Donald Trump – let’s be clear – I do not think that Kim-Jong-un is a good friend. I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin [is] not a great friend of mine.”
During the same 1985 interview, Sanders also criticized then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who opposed communism and had a goal of spreading democracy around the world.
“Just because Ronald Reagan dislikes these people, doesn’t mean that people in their own nations feel the same way,” Sanders said in 1985.
Sanders traveled to Nicaragua in 1985 to witness a celebration of the Sandinista revolution, which took place in the late 1970s. He said in the ‘85 video he was “impressed” with the “intelligence and sincerity” of the Sandinista leaders.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.