During the Wednesday-night Democratic debate, Univision moderator Maria Elena Salinas confronted Bernie Sanders with a decades-old clip of him heaping apparent praise on former Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Sanders, who has identified himself as a Democratic socialist, had earlier in the debate called for “full and normalized political relations with Cuba” — a position he shares with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner.
“I think at the end of the day, it will be a good thing for the Cuban people,” Sanders said. “It will enable them, I think, when they see people coming into their country from the United States, move in a more Democratic direction, which I what I want to see.”
Salinas then brought out a video clip from 1985 showing Sanders apparently defending Castro, who was a leader of the Cuban Revolution and whose rule led the small island country to become a one-party, communist state.
In the clip, Sanders said:
You may recall way back in, what was it, 1961, they invaded Cuba. And everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world, that all the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They had forgotten that he had educated their kids, given them healthcare, totally transformed their society.
“In south Florida, there are still some open wounds among exiles regarding socialism and communism,” Salinas told Sanders. “So please explain, what is the difference between the socialism that you profess and the socialism in Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela?”
Sanders defended his prior statements:
What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong for trying to invade Cuba. That the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. That the United States was wrong trying to overthrow in 1954 the government, the democratically elected government of Guatemala. Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America, we’ve operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine. And that said that the United States had the right to do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America. So I actually went to Nicaragua, and I very strongly opposed the Reagan administration’s effort to overthrow that government.
He added that the US should be “working with governments around the world” and not “get involved in regime change.” Sanders also claimed that US intervention in Latin America stoked anti-US sentiment there.
Salinas pressed Sanders if he ever regretted his past characterizations of Castro and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. The latter led the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which overthrew the Nicaraguan dictatorship.
“The key issue here was whether the United States should go around overthrowing small Latin American countries,” Sanders said. “I think that was a mistake, both in Nicaragua and Cuba.”
He then touted advances Cuba has made in healthcare and education since communism came to the country.
“It would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in healthcare,” Sanders said. “They are sending doctors all over the world. They are making some progress in education.”
Clinton, however, dismissed Sanders’ explanation for his decades-old remarks. She noted that in an unaired portion of the clip, Sanders talked about the “revolution of values” in Cuba and people “working for the common good.”
The Clinton campaign continued to hit Sanders over the remarks after the debate. It sent an email blast to reporters titled, “Bernie Sanders Refuses to Disavow Praise for Fidel Castro.”
Clinton “has made clear the Castros have been enemies of their own people, and that her efforts to end our isolationist policies were driven by her belief that they were actually strengthening Castro,” her campaign said.
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