Bernie Sanders doesn't regret his support for anti-American communists in Nicaragua

Bernie Sanders’ past support for communists abroad continues to dog his campaign. Last week, the NY Times published a piece looking back at his support for the Sandinistas in the 1980s. As Jonathan Chait pointed out yesterday, Sanders went well beyond objecting to the Reagan administration’s support of the Contras:

During the 1980s, the Reagan administration was giving military aid to the Contras, a right-wing guerrilla insurgency attacking the Nicaraguan government. Most Democrats opposed aiding the Contras while still deploring the communist Nicaraguan government.

The Times shows that Sanders went well beyond mere opposition to funding the war. He wrote to Sandinista leaders that American news media had not “reflected fairly the goals and accomplishments of your administration.” On a visit to the country, he attended a Sandinista celebration at which the crowd chanted, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die,” and complained that American reporters ignored “the truth” about Nicaragua’s government, telling a CBS reporter, “You are worms.”

A day after that NY Times story was published, Sanders gave an interview to the paper. He was asked about the Sandinista rally he attended where those anti-American chants were happening. Instead of answering the question (or disavowing the communist regime), Sanders turned on the reporter:

Ember: In the top of our story, we talk about the rally you attended in Managua and a wire report at the time said that there were anti-American chants from the crowd.

Sanders: The United States at that time — I don’t know how much you know about this — was actively supporting the Contras to overthrow the government. So that there’s anti-American sentiment? I remember that, I remember that event very clearly.

Ember: You do recall hearing those chants? I think the wire report has them saying, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.”

Sanders: They were fighting against American — Huh huh — yes, what is your point?

Ember: I wanted to —

Sanders: Are you shocked to learn that there was anti-American sentiment?

Ember: My point was I wanted to know if you had heard that.

Sanders: I don’t remember, no. Of course there was anti-American sentiment there. This was a war being funded by the United States against the people of Nicaragua. People were being killed in that war.

Ember: Do you think if you had heard that directly, you would have stayed at the rally?

Sanders: I think Sydney, with all due respect, you don’t understand a word that I’m saying.

Ember: Do you believe you had an accurate view of President Ortega at the time? I’m wondering if you’re——

Sanders: This was not about Ortega. Do you understand? I don’t know if you do or not. Do you know that the United States overthrew the government of Chile way back? Do you happen to know that? Do you? I’m asking you a simple question.

Notice that Sanders first says “I remember that event very clearly,” speaking of the rally. Then, when asked if he remembers the anti-US slogans he says, “I don’t remember, no.” But he still defends the chanting of the slogans he doesn’t recall, saying, “Of course there was anti-American sentiment there.” In short, if he had heard those chants, it wouldn’t have surprised or bothered him.

We believe you, Bernie.

Elsewhere in the interview, Sanders did allow that he is “very concerned about the anti-democratic policies of the Ortega government” now. That’s something I guess, but it’s really not much when you consider what has been happening in Nicaragua lately. From the Atlantic:

Nicaragua is showing all the symptoms of a failed state. At the center of the storm is the corrupt minority government of Daniel Ortega, the former revolutionary leader who now acts more like a cartel boss than a president. Over the past seven weeks, Ortega’s police and paramilitaries have killed more than 120 people, mostly students and other young protesters who are demanding the president’s ouster and a return to democracy, according to a human-rights group. Police hunt students like enemy combatants. Sandinista Youth paramilitaries, armed and paid by Ortega’s party, drive around in pickup trucks attacking protesters. Gangs of masked men loot and burn shops with impunity. Cops wear civilian clothing, and some paramilitaries dress in police uniforms. “This is starting to look more like Syria than Caracas,” one Nicaraguan business leader told me.

Sanders has also expressed concern about the Venezuelan government, which has similarly turned to death squads in recent weeks. What Bernie won’t do is admit he was wrong to support these governments in the first place. What Bernie also won’t do is call Ortega or Maduro dictators. He seems to have tremendous tolerance for murderous, socialist dictators.

What Sanders did is no different from traveling to Iran today and joining a crowd chanting “Death to America.” Any presidential candidate who did so would be expected to explain or apologize for it but Sanders just keeps dodging the question and, in this case, attacking the media for daring to ask.