Sanders Doubles Down on Defense of Fidel Castro’s Literacy Program After Criticism

After receiving fierce criticism for comments he made defending Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) signaled that he was not going to apologize.

During a CNN town hall on Monday, Sanders doubled down on defense of Castro’s literacy program.

“When Fidel Castro first came to power … Do you know what he did? He initiated a major literacy program. There was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate. And he formed the ‘literacy brigade.’ They went out, and they helped people to read and write. You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.”

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Sanders continued to say that he has been “extremely consistent and critical” of authoritarian regimes around the world. He added, “I happen to believe in democracy, not authoritarianism.”

“China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian,” Sanders said before stating that China has done some good for its people, despite moving toward a more authoritarian system of government.

“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. Do I get criticized because I say that’s the truth. So, that is the fact. End of discussion.” 

Sanders’ comments at the town hall came after he was roundly criticized for defending policies of Castro during an interview on CBS News’ ’60 Minutes.” During the interview, Sanders praised Castro for implementing a literacy program.

“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 in the interview.

During the town hall, Sanders also addressed the criticism he received from Democratic members of Congress for those comments, “By the way, all of those congresspeople that you mentioned just so happen to be supporting other candidates, just accidentally, no doubt. Coincidentally.”

Although neither of the two congresswomen, who were mentioned as examples of politicians who have criticized Sanders’ comments, have endorsed a presidential candidate. 

Later in the town hall on Monday, presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg slammed Sanders, “Of course literacy is a good thing, but why are we spotlighting the literacy programs of a brutal dictator instead of being unambiguous in our condemnation about the way he was treating his own people?