Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is standing by his comments praising Cuban communist revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, stating “the truth is the truth.”
The self-proclaimed Democratic socialist faced heavy backlash on Monday from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, after his Sunday night CBS ’60 Minutes’ interview where he praised Castro for implementing socialist policies, saying it’s “unfair to simply say everything is bad” under the late dictator regime.
During a CNN Town Hall Monday night in South Carolina, Sanders defended his remarks, arguing that Castro had done some good things for his country, including his literacy program that “helped people learn to read and write” and it was a “good thing.”
“When 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,” Sanders said. “He formed the literacy brigade. [Castro] went out and they helped people learn to read and write. You know what, I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.”
He added: “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.”
When asked about the criticism he received from his fellow Democrat colleagues, Sanders brushed off their comments, saying saying “truth is truth” and those who spoke out are the ones publicly endorsing his opponents.
“Truth is truth. All right? If you want to disagree with me, if somebody wants to say — and by the way, all of those congresspeople that you mentioned just so happen to be supporting other candidates, just accidentally, no doubt. Coincidentally,” Sanders said to applause from the South Carolina audience.. “But you know, the truth is the truth, and that’s what happened in the first years of the Castro regime.”
Sanders noted that China is another example of an autocratic dictatorship that has accomplished good things for its people.
“China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian,” Sanders said. “But can anyone deny, the facts are clear, that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history?”
Sanders’ interview drew scores of criticism, particularly from lawmakers representing districts in Florida, a state known for its sizable population of Americans of Cuban descent. Several Florida representatives called the remarks “unacceptable” and the state’s Democratic Party released a statement without naming Sanders, calling for candidates to “understand our immigrant communities’ shared stories.”.”
“As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders’ comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable,” Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell wrote in a pair of tweets. “The Castro regime murdered and jailed dissidents, and caused unspeakable harm to too many South Florida families. To this day, it remains an authoritarian regime that oppresses its people, subverts the free press, and stifles a free society.”
Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala who represents parts of Miami and Miami Beach, wrote in a tweet that she hopes “that in the future, Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro.”
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Sanders is “wrong about why people didn’t overthrow Castro. It’s not because ‘he educated their kids, gave them health care’ it’s because his opponents were jailed, murdered or exiled.”
The senator’s comments were also criticized by some of his Democratic rivals.
“Fidel Castro left a dark legacy of forced labor camps, religious repression, widespread poverty, firing squads, and the murder of thousands of his own people,” Bloomberg tweeted from his campaign account. “But sure, Bernie, let’s talk about his literacy program.”
Former Vice President, Joe Biden adviser Cristóbal Alex said Sanders’ “ideology blinds him to the realities of life” in autocratic regimes.
The Sanders campaign defended the senator’s remarks about Castro, arguing Sanders was “simply echoing” former President Obama.
“Sen. Sanders has clearly and consistently criticized Fidel Castro’s authoritarianism and condemned his human rights abuses, and he’s simply echoing President Obama’s acknowledgment that Cuba made progress, especially in education,” Sanders communications director Mike Casca said in a statement.