Senator Bernie Sanders and his 2020 campaign’s national co-chair defended recent controversial remarks he made praising the legacy of Cuba’s late dictator Fidel Castro.
Congressman Ro Khanna came to Sanders’ defense on CNN Monday when he was asked about the blowback the Vermont senator and 2020 hopeful has received following a “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday.
CNN host Erin Burnett questioned whether Sanders “went too far” on his Castro remarks, noting the condemnation he has been under by even those in the Democrat Party. The Florida Democratic Party issued a statement as did others in the wake of Sanders’ contention that it was “unfair to simply say everything is bad” under Castro, and that the people of Cuba did not rise up against Castro’s dictatorship because “he educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society.”
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba,” Sanders said. “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?”
“Do you think that perhaps he went too far on Castro?” Burnett asked Khanna on Monday.
His response was to insist that Sanders was not ignoring the obvious abuses by the Castro regime but simply saying “let’s go back to President Obama’s policy” in dealing with the nation.
“Senator Sanders clearly believes that Fidel Castro was a dictator, that he had massive human rights abuses, that he engaged in mass shootings, and there is absolutely no apology for what he did,” Khanna told Burnett.
“He did things that were heinous and human rights violations that were indefensible,” he added.
“But the point is that what Senator Sanders is saying is let’s go back to Obama’s policy where Obama was trying to have some normalization with Cuba, and not support Donald Trump’s policy, where Donald Trump has reversed everything Obama did,” Khanna said.
Sanders, himself, doubled down on his remarks at a CNN town hall in Charleston, South Carolina on Monday, defending Castro for instituting a literacy program when he took power.
CNN host Andrew Cuomo asked the 2020 contender about his remarks and noted how Florida Democrats are “attacking your comment as absolutely unacceptable, singing the praises of a murderous tyrant.”
“When Fidel Castro first came to power… you know what he did? He initiated a major literacy program. There was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate. He formed a literacy brigade… and they helped people learn to read and write,” Sanders replied.
“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, including Cuba, including Nicaragua, including Saudi Arabia,including China, including Russia. I happen to believe in democracy, not authoritarianism,” he added.
He pointed to how he has faced criticism for comments made about China leading people out of poverty.
“China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian. But can anyone deny — the facts are clear — that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history. I get criticized, but that is the truth,” Sanders said.
“So that is the fact. End of discussion,” he said to some applause.
Cuomo pressed, noting that Democrats would argue that Castro should not get “a pat on the back for anything.”
“Truth is truth. All right?” Sanders replied, drawing applause from the town hall audience.
“If you want to disagree with me, if somebody wants to say that — and by the way, all of those Congress people you mentioned just so happen to be supporting other candidates, accidentally, no doubt,” he said. “But you know, the truth is the truth. And that is what happened in the first years of the Castro regime.”
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