During a CNN town hall on February 25, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was asked point-blank if he thought Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is a dictator. He dodged the question, and has in the past refused to acknowledge the claim to power of Juan Guaidó, the leader of the Venezuelan opposition who is trying to restore democratic order.
Just on February 23, Maduro’s forces opened fire on groups of Venezuelans attempting to receive humanitarian aid into the starving country. Over a two-day stretch, dozens were hospitalized and six people killed.
Unfortunately, under the socialist Maduro regime, that’s just par for the course. It has arrested and killed protesters, tortured political opponents, and committed countless other human rights abuses. So it’s deeply disturbing that a self-described socialist politician like Sanders can’t even bring himself to call Maduro what he is—a brutal dictator. But it’s not surprising.
Sanders has a long history as an apologist for socialist dictators around the world. Now that he’s running for president, it’s time to call out the senator’s record for what it is: disgraceful and disqualifying.
His socialist sympathy stretches back to the Cold War. The senator was very fond of the Soviet Union, even bragging about his vacations there. He praised their communist youth programs and called their public transportation system “absolutely beautiful.” Never mind the estimated 20 million people who were murdered or starved to death under Soviet rule. For Sanders, their state-run economy evidently made genocide worth overlooking.
Dictator Fidel Castro and his authoritarian socialist system in Cuba inspired similar feelings for Sanders. In 1989, when he was the mayor of Burlington, Sanders said Castro “solved some very important problems,” even claiming that Cuba was “more successful than almost any other developing country in providing health care for its people.”
He also praised Castro’s education efforts and “transformation” of Cuban society, dismissing critics like Ronald Reagan. Somehow, Sanders was willing to ignore that Castro’s police state denied its people freedom of speech and issued thousands of unwarranted jailings and government killings—all because he liked its socialist economy.
This propaganda from Sanders stretched into Central America, too, during his travels to Nicaragua. Sanders visited the country for a speech in 1985 at the request of the Sandinistas, the “democratic” socialist political party with a history of killing thousands of innocent Nicaraguan citizens for simply disagreeing with them. When asked about the Sandinistas’ socialist economic policy, Sanders seriously said, “It’s funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food. That is a good thing!”
The quote is beyond parody, especially considering that he would dare to criticize journalists for their coverage of the Sandinistas, brutes responsible for murdering many journalists themselves.
At first glance, Sanders’ record of apologizing for social strongmen is laughable, but he’s running to be the next president of the United States, so it’s terrifying. Why is Sanders so willing to overlook the sins of socialist dictators worldwide? Despite styling himself as a “democratic socialist” who simply wants to work within the system to enact progressive change, at heart, Sanders clearly sympathizes with these dictators.
This isn’t to say Sanders truly supports the human rights violations of these socialist dictators, or that he would usher such violent authoritarianism into the United States. It’s an indication that he doesn’t understand his own ideology’s rotten record. It also shows Sanders is willing to turn a blind eye to grave injustices for the overall advancement of socialist economic policies. How else might he apply this ideology as president? Based on his record here, one can’t be faulted for worrying.
If his presidential bid is successful, and Congress or the courts decide not to cooperate with his agenda, what would Sanders be willing to excuse to make his “free” health care and college proposals a reality? In 2020, let’s hope we never have to find out.