During Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary debate in South Carolina, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders responded to members of the audience who booed him for his comments on Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
The controversy has gained steam in recent days after Sanders was forced to address comments he made in the 1980s regarding Castro, whom he claimed was not overthrown because he educated the Cuban people and gave them health care.
Sanders doubled down in an interview on the CBS program “60 Minutes” that was broadcast Sunday.
“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?” Sanders said.
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) February 24, 2020
That comment drew the ire of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father fled Cuba to escape the Castro regime.
“It really makes a difference when those you murder at the firing squad can read & write,” the senator tweeted.
It really makes a difference when those you murder at the firing squad can read & write. https://t.co/4DKbSKpI6t
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 24, 2020
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Sanders was even asked about those comments during a CNN town hall on Monday.
And once again, he refused to back down, instead going so far as to bring the Chinese communist dictatorship, too.
“The response was that when Fidel Castro first came to power … he initiated a major literacy program,” Sanders said.
“There’s a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate, and he formed a literacy brigade … they went out and they helped people learn to read and write.
Bernie Sanders stands by his qualified praise of Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba: “(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” https://t.co/WEiDzKKvfb #CNNTownHall pic.twitter.com/yJLLUDApde
— CNN (@CNN) February 25, 2020
“You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing. 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.
“But, you know, you can’t say — China is another example. China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian. But can anyone deny — I mean, the facts are clear, that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history.”
Sanders was asked to address the controversy during the debate in Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday.
Sanders compared his stance on Cuba to that of former President Barack Obama, who said “that Cuba made progress on education.”
“Yes, I think–” Sanders said, before someone in the audience could be heard booing him.
“Really?” Sanders asked.
That prompted a few more boos from the audience.
— MTV NEWS (@MTVNEWS) February 26, 2020
“Really?” Sanders asked again, before going on to talk about the literacy programs Castro implemented.
The moment garnered quite the reaction on Twitter:
Bernie saying “Really? Really?!” when he got booed again was a bad look. #DemDebate
— Annalea (@citizengatsby) February 26, 2020
Bernie raising his eyebrows and asking “Really!? Really!?” is extremely My Dad When I Was In High School energy. I feel seen. By my dad. When I was in high school.
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) February 26, 2020
Bernie is mad at everyone, including the audience. “Really!?”
News flash: the acting president is NEVER universally loved. Don’t get into the race if you can’t take some boos. pic.twitter.com/Y6qbHrE3BH
— Brr Their Emails! (@but_their) February 26, 2020
Sanders, meanwhile, was challenged on the point by former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and the two briefly spoke over each other.
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