Sen. Bernie Sanders, when appearing at the March 9 Democratic presidential debate in Miami, expressed praise for the medical care available in communist Cuba. This was in response to moderator María Elena Salinas, who pointed out that Sanders was also a supporter of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. In the 1980s, Nicaragua received significant aid from enemies of the United States, such as East Germany, Cuba, Libya, and the Soviet Union.
Salinas said that Sanders had once praised the Sandinista government, while describing then-dictator Daniel Ortega was “an impressive guy.” She then showed a videotape from 1985 in which Sanders praised Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and condemned American foreign policy.
The 1985 video depicts Sanders being interviewed by an unidentified reporter about Castro. In the archive video interview, Sanders condemned the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion in which Cubans, with the support of the U.S., sought to bring down the Castro regime in the hope that the Cubans would rise up against the dictatorship. Candidate Sanders said that the organizers of the incursion forgot that Castro “educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed their society.” The audience went silent when it heard Sanders' praise for the dictator, who has been widely condemned for decades of human rights violations.
Salinas pointed out that many exiles living in Florida have “open wounds” over socialism and communism, and then asked Sanders to describe the difference between his socialism and the socialism of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela. Sanders did not answer the question, but instead denounced U.S. policy towards Latin America. He recalled that he went to Nicaragua because he opposed the Reagan’s administration policy there, and Nixon’s policy in Chile. “I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get involved in regime change,” said Sanders.
When Salinas asked whether he regrets his characterizations of Ortega and Castro, Sanders again evaded the question and instead said that it was a mistake for the U.S. to overthrow Latin American governments. The audience cheered as Sanders condemned U.S.-inspired regime change in countries such as Guatemala, which saw a coup orchestrated by the CIA in 1954.
While admitting that Cuba is not democratic, Sanders claimed that Cuba has made “good advances in health care, and education, while also sending doctors to foreign countries. Having pointed out that President Obama will visit Cuba within the next few days, Sanders said he believes the restoration of full diplomatic relations with the island dictatorship will result in improvements in the lives of Cubans and additional business for American companies.