During Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, Pete Buttigieg took issue with Bernie Sanders’s qualified praise for Fidel Castro’s literacy and health care programs in communist Cuba.
Following a prolonged back-and-forth on the topic of Sanders’s past comments regarding some communist governments, former Vice President Joe Biden said Sanders “did not condemn” their leaders.
“I have condemned authoritarianism, whether it is the people in Saudi Arabia, that the United States government has loved for years, Cuba, Nicaragua, authoritarianism of any stripe is bad,” Sanders responded. “But that is different than saying the governments occasionally do things that are good.”
That gave Buttigieg an opening to cast both Sanders and Trump as out of touch.
“The only way we get to do this is to actually win the presidency, and I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s and Bernie Sanders with nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s,” Buttigieg said.
“This is not about what coups were happening in the 1970s or ’80s, this is about the future. This is about 2020. We are not going to survive or succeed, and we’re certainly not going to win by reliving the Cold War and we’re not going to win these critical House and Senate races if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic Party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime. We’ve got to be a lot smarter than this.”
During Sanders’s appearance on “60 Minutes” this past Sunday, Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, was asked about his past statements about Cuba’s communist dictatorship.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?” Sanders said. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”
Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island nation in the years following Castro’s seizure of power in 1959. Sanders has admitted that he was initially supportive of Castro’s revolution, which took place when he was a teenager. He also visited both the Soviet Union and socialist Nicaragua when he was the mayor of Burlington, Vt., in the 1980s, and praised aspects of both systems.
Many Democrats have worried that Sanders’s remarks would make winning the key battleground state of Florida, with its large population of Cuban exiles and their descendants, all but impossible should he become the Democratic nominee for president.
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