And if Cuba had trains, they’d probably run on time, too. Now that Bernie Sanders has the inside track on the Democratic presidential nomination, some of his more colorful defenses of left-wing dictatorships and communism have finally gotten attention from the mainstream media. Sanders sat down for a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper, who played clips of Sanders praising Fidel Castro for having “totally transformed the society, you know?”
Sanders didn’t disavow the sentiment, but instead praised Castro’s “literacy program”:
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) February 24, 2020
Back in the 1980s, Sanders had some positive things to say about the former Soviet Union and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
Here he is explaining why the Cuban people didn’t rise up and help the U.S. overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro: “…he educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society, you know?”
Bernie Sanders: We’re 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. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?
Anderson Cooper: A lot of p– dissidents imprisoned in– in Cuba.
Bernie Sanders: That’s right. And we condemn that. Unlike Donald Trump, let’s be clear, you want to– I do not think that Kim Jong Un is a good friend. I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine.
As one person put it on Twitter last night, Bernie must figure he can win the presidency without Florida. Literacy was an issue in pre-Castro Cuba, mainly in the rural areas of the country, but there would have been other solutions to it beside turning the island into a prison camp. (The official literacy rate at the time was between 60-76%.) Those who had to escape Castro, and even those Cuban-Americans whose families escaped Fulgencio Batista — a different sub-demographic, politically, and more liberal — are not going to enjoy being painted as illiterate peasants. Nor will they see illiteracy as a counterbalance to Castro’s oppression and impoverishment of the Cubans.
Sanders’ attempts to draw a parallel to Donald Trump’s personal diplomacy with Kim and Putin reek of desperation. Trump never praised their form of government; he only overdid it on a personal basis with both men for diplomatic purposes. That’s certainly a legitimate point of criticism, but it’s not the same as Sanders’ decades-long praise for systems of government that oppressed and mass-murdered their own systems of government and praise for the dictators specifically for imposing those systems.
Even today, Sanders can’t avoid the usual you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette rationalization to defend Castro. Note three words that never appear in Sanders’ explanation: I was wrong. That’s because Sanders doesn’t think he was wrong to support Castro, the Sandinistas, or the Soviets. History proves otherwise, and Democrats who nominate this socialist crank to the top of their ticket will end up in its dustbin.
Update: Speaking of dustbins, Hans Bader e-mails me to remind us of this Washington Post fact-check on these claims when Justin Trudeau trotted them out. Glenn Kessler gave the Canadian PM three Pinocchios for largely the same argument a little over three years ago:
As for health care and education, Cuba was already near the top of the heap before the revolution. Cuba’s low infant mortality rate is often lauded, but it already led the region on this key measure in 1953-1958, according to data collected by Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a Cuba specialist and professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh. In terms of life expectancy, Cuba was in fourth place in the mid-1950s — and advanced to third in 2005-2007. Literacy was also high — fourth place in 1950s — and Cuba advanced to second place in 2005-2007.
“We suspect that overall healthcare outcomes would not have been much different given the remarkably low levels of infant mortality in Republican Cuba,” Ward-Peradoza and Devereux said. But they said the revolution probably improved education.
Most of the gains came not from Castro’s revolution but from Soviet attempts to boost Cuba for propaganda purposes. When the Soviet Union collapsed in its mass of economic contradictions, so did “Castro’s” gains:
Mesa-Lago said many gains were lost after the Soviet Union collapsed and ended its support for the regime. He said that Trudeau’s remarks thus were out of date. “This was true by the end of the 1980s, as I have proved in my books and articles, but not after the huge economic crisis of the 1990s when the economy sank by 35 percent in three years; after that, health and education indicators badly deteriorated and, despite some recovery in 2000-2003, still several of them are below 1989 levels,” he said.
Data collected by Mesa-Lago show that from 1989 to 2014, the number of hospital beds declined 29 percent, hospitals fell 37 percent and family doctors plummeted 61 percent.
Reporters have also documented that Cuban hospitals are ill-equipped. A 2004 series on Cuba’s health-care system in Canada’s National Post said pharmacies stock very little and antibiotics are available only on the black market. “One of the myths Canadians harbor about Cuba is that its people may be poor and living under a repressive government, but they have access to quality health and education facilities,” the Post said. “It’s a portrait encouraged by the government, but the reality is sharply different.”
Hans made similar points when Obama tried praising Castro during his odd dance with Raúl.