CLAIM: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) claimed during Tuesday night’s Democrat debate that he has “opposed authoritarianism all over the world.”
VERDICT: Mostly false. Sanders has repeatedly praised communism in Cuba, China, and Nicaragua, with weak caveats acknowledging that they are authoritarian regimes.
Sanders aggressively denied supporting authoritarian regimes when asked to justify comments made repeatedly this week praising Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s “literacy campaigns,” indoctrination plans that forced children to read communist propaganda and worship mass murderers like Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Sanders never mentioned in his prior supportive comments that Cuba had an extremely high literacy rate before the 1959 communist revolution that did not necessitate the alleged literacy programs.
“I have opposed authoritarianism all over the world,” Sanders insisted on Tuesday. “Of course you have a dictatorship in Cuba, what I said is what Barack Obama said … that Cuba made progress on education.”
Sanders then proceeded to yell at the crowd, which booed his support for communism.
“Really? Literacy programs are bad?” Sanders asked.
“Occasionally, it might be a good idea to be honest about American foreign policy, that includes the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world,” Sanders continued, without explaining what his claims of American meddling in Iran and Chile had to do with Fidel Castro’s childhood indoctrination schemes.
After insisting he has opposed authoritarianism consistently, he then defended authoritarianism on the debate stage.
“When dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that,” he said, over the unintelligible shouts of several other candidates on the stage.
“I have condemned authoritarianism … authoritarianism of any stripe is bad, but that is different than to say that governments on occasion do things that are good,” Sanders concluded.
In the comments that Sanders defended on the stage – offered to Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes Sunday – the socialist senator applauded Cuba and condemned those who criticized Castro for saying “everything is bad.”
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but, you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know? 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?” he asked.
On Monday, Sanders offered a similar defense on CNN.
“[W]hen Fidel Castro first came to power he initiated a major literacy program. There [were] a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate, and he formed a literacy brigade … they went out and they helped people learn to read and write,” Sanders said. “You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing. I have been extremely consistent and critical of all authoritarian regimes all over the world … but, you know, you can’t say — China is another example. China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian. But can anyone deny — I mean, the facts are clear, that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history.”
Sanders did not offer his authoritarian caveats in the 1980s remarks that prompted the 60 Minutes interview question on Cuba.
“You may recall way back in, when was it, 1961, they invaded Cuba and the, everybody was totally convinced the Castro was the worst guy in the world. All the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro,” Sanders said at the time. “They had forgotten that he educated the kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society.”
Granma, the official state newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, approvingly translated Sanders’ comments for an article Tuesday applauding him as “today one of the strongest aspirants to the Democrat Party nomination to the November presidential election.”