Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution wasn’t entirely bad, Democratic presidential front runner Bernie Sanders said in a 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday night.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but, you know, it’s simply unfair to say everything is bad,” Sanders said in an interview with journalist Anderson Cooper.
The comments — sure to rile Cuban exiles in Miami and escalate arguments from moderate Democrats that Sanders is too far left to beat President Donald Trump — came in response to questions about remarks Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, made in a 1980s interview.
During that interview, a clip of which aired on CBS Sunday night, Sanders counted healthcare and education among the reasons that the Cuban people didn’t rise up and overthrow Castro after his 1959 revolution.
“You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program,” Sanders told Cooper. “Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”
“There are a lot of dissidents imprisoned in Cuba,” Cooper said to Sanders.
“That’s right. And we condemn that,” Sanders responded, before contrasting his views on authoritarianism with Trump’s.
“Unlike Donald Trump — let’s be clear — I do not think that [North Korean dictator] Kim Jung Un is a good friend. I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. [Russian President] Vladimir Putin: not a good friend of mine.”
Sanders has a long history of praising left-leaning authoritarian leaders in Latin America.
In 1985, Sanders met Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega and called him a “very impressive guy.” Ortega recently banned Nicaragua’s largest newspaper from buying ink and newsprint. Sanders also visited Cuba in the 1980s, praising Castro’s social programs while expressing concern about the government’s jailing of political dissidents.
Video clips of Sanders’ remarks on 60 Minutes were quickly shared on social media. Some Miami-based Democrats said Sanders’ response is politically damaging in South Florida, home to more than 1 million Cuban-Americans.
“Democrats, nominating this man will absolutely re-elect Donald Trump and end our Constitutional republic,” tweeted Miami-based Democratic strategist and pollster Fernand Amandi.
“You can practically hear Miami crack off Florida and go spinning into the ocean,” Miami-based author Roben Farzad tweeted.
The 60 Minutes interview aired 23 days before Florida’s March 17 Democratic presidential primary. Nearly a quarter-million Democrats have already voted by mail.