Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) claimed it was “extremely unfair” to equate his radical leftist policies to those of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro during Thursday’s Democratic presidential primary debate.
Sanders was responding to a question from moderator Jorge Ramos, a vocal opponent of the Venezuelan regime who Maduro temporarily imprisoned after disliking his questions during an interview for Univisión in February. Ramos questioned why Sanders had failed to condemn Maduro in the past and asked him to clarify in what way his embrace of socialism as a label for his personal ideology differed from the socialism that has brought Venezuelan society to a complete collapse.
“Anybody who does what Maduro does is a vicious tyrant,” Sanders responded. “What we need is interntional and regional cooperation for free elections in Venezuela.”
“To equate what goes on in Venezuela with what I believe is extremely unfair,” Sanders protested. Instead, he claimed that the socialism he supported was “what goes on in Canada and Scandinavia, guaranteeing healthcare to all people as a human right.”
Under Maduro, Venezuela’s constitution refers to healthcare as a “fundamental social right, an obligation of the state [to provide], as part of the right to life.” Late dictator Hugo Chávez nationalized all hospitals in 2013, the year he died and Maduro took over. Since then, Venezuelan hospitals have suffered enormous shortages in medicine and key medical equipment. As many as 85 percent of pharmacies in Venezuela have no medicine and the country faces chronic shortages of nearly every medicine on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of drugs necessary to run a functional healthcare system.
Maduro has repeatedly blocked humanitarian aid shipments from entering the country.
In February, the same month Maduro arrested Jorge Ramos for asking about the status of political prisoners under his regime, Sanders told CNN that Venezuela still enjoyed “democratic operations,” refusing to call Maduro a dictator.
“I think it’s fair to say that the last election was undemocratic, but there are still democratic operations taking place in that country,” Sanders said during a town hall discussion.
Carmen Yulín Cruz, a Sanders campaign co-chair and mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, refused to condemn the human rights situation in Venezuela during an interview with Jorge Ramos in July. She also attempted to distance Sanders from the “socialist” moniker, saying she did not use it herself because, “especially for Latinos,” socialism is often equated to “authoritarianism.”
While Sanders called Maduro a “tyrant” on Thursday, Maduro has had kind words for Sanders. In 2016, Maduro condemned the United States as a dictatorship, claiming that the fact that “our revolutionary friend” Sanders did not win the Democratic primary that year was proof that “in the United States, the people do not have social rights.”