Fresh off a stunning series of victories in Nevada, New Hampshire, and (probably) Iowa, Senator Bernie Sanders celebrated by telling the media about the political triumphs – of Fidel Castro.
The Democratic presidential front-runner told 60 Minutes on Sunday that he’s “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.”
Sanders insists he favors Nordic social democracies, but he has sung the praises of virtually every Marxist regime of his time, including Castro’s Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. He managed only tepid criticism of their abysmal human rights records, while offering a full-throated and monochromatic condemnation of U.S. foreign policy. The pattern had become familiar enough that the crowd at Wednesday night’s Democratic debate in South Carolina booed when Sanders said, “Cuba’s made progress on education.”
The false equivalence of the country’s best-known “democratic socialist” serves to highlight the moral confusion inherent in socialism of any variety. And it allows us to identify the faulty reasoning Sanders uses to whitewash regimes guilty of history’s worst human rights abuses.
Give him this: Sanders is nothing if not consistent. After an eight-day visit to Havana in March 1989, he said, “Cuba has solved some very important problems. I did not see a hungry child. I did not see any homeless people.” He raved about the nation’s “free health care, free education, free housing.”
Cuba fit into Sanders’ overarching pattern of extolling Marxist strongmen. The Vermont gadfly visited Nicaragua in July 1985, six years into the Sandinistas’ dictatorship. There, he attended a rally where Daniel Ortega promised to “defend the revolution with guns in hand,” and the crowds chanted, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die!” When Sanders returned to Burlington, he called Ortega “an impressive guy” and fashioned a defense of the Nicaraguan strongman that eerily presaged the one he now offers for Cuba:
Is [the Sandinistas’] crime that they have built new health clinics, schools, and distributed land to the peasants? Is their crime that they have given equal rights to women? Or that they are moving forward to wipe out illiteracy?
In the same way, Sanders and his wife, Jane, had only positive things to say about the Soviet Union, where the newlyweds chose to honeymoon. Sanders marveled at the beauty of the nation’s subway system and its cultural programs for young people.
Venezuela, too, became the object of Sanders’ socialist affection. In 2011, the senator’s website posted a “must read” editorial from the Valley News that averred, “These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than” the U.S. Even after Nicolás Maduro transparently rigged the last election, Sanders refused to call him a dictator, because there are “still democratic operations” in Venezuela. His remark came just days after Maduro’s forces killed four protesters, including a 16-year-old boy.