Apr 07 2016

Bernie for Bread Lines, Castro, & Press Censorship

Bernie for bread lines

Vermont’s socialist presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, has a bit of a sordid past when it comes to foreign policy. Though he often seems to avoid the topic, as Burlington mayor, he was accused of neglecting domestic affairs for foreign ones and showed an uncomfortable affinity for the dictatorships of Cuba and Sandinista Nicaragua. He often acted as a self-appointed “peace envoy” to Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Soviet Union and attempted to start sister city programs in all three. Bernie has gone so far as to praise bread lines as a show of economic progress, support the Nicaraguan press censorship of the 1980s, and hail Fidel Castro as a hero revolutionary pushing Cuba into a new golden age. Here’s a couple gems on bread lines and Castro:

In 1961, [America] invaded Cuba, and everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world. All the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave their kids health care, totally transformed society.

You know, it’s funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is because people are lining up for food. That’s a good thing. In other countries, people don’t line up for food. The rich get the food and the poor starve to death.

Bernie’s bread line praises were recently detailed by Daily Beast columnist and former Reason Magazine editor recently featured during an interview with Moynihan on Stossel. Buried in piles of old micro-film were appearance after press conference after interview, all “punctuated with a full-throated defense of the dictatorship in Nicaragua.” He praised the Sandinistas as wiping out illiteracy, giving land to the poor, improving healthcare, and making moves towards gender equality. In reality, the Sandinista regime crushed political dissent, committed religious persecution, murdered its citizens, suspended the freedoms of press, speech, and the freedom to organize and strike. All media outlets were put under government control and the government regularly used torture and indefinite detention against its own citizens – all while stealing massive amounts of money from the people and plotting a bombing that killed three journalists.

The Burlington Free Press mocked Sanders for playing the role of internationalista dupe and lampooned him for expressing, after just a brief, government-guided tour of Nicaragua, “such approval of the Sandinistas on the basis of what was at best a cursory inspection,” an instinct that “says more about his naïveté in the foreign policy field than anything else. Sanders countered that he was free to quiz real Nicaraguans on their political allegiances, but they “laughed” when he asked which party they backed because “of course they are with the government.”

He had similar things to say about Cuba, after returning from a 1989 trip to Havana:

Sanders excitedly reported that Cuba had “solved some very important problems” like hunger and homelessness. “I did not see a hungry child. I did not see any homeless people,” he told the Free Press. “Cuba today not only has free healthcare but very high quality healthcare.” Sanders had a hunch that Cubans actually appreciated living in a one-party state. “The people we met had an almost religious affection for [Fidel Castro]. The revolution there is far deep and more profound than I understood it to be. It really is a revolution in terms of values.”

The people of Nicaragua and Cuba may absolutely have told Sanders that they supported their dictators and governments. So, too, will the people of North Korea when asked. This does not necessarily mean actual commitment and support. It may also be of note that the Sandinista government paid for Bernie’s 1985 trip and the Cuba trip was organized by a pro-Castro group out of New York.

In 1982, the Sandinistas declared an official State of Emergency that was to last six years. During this time, the Sandinistas committed gross human rights violations – political dissidents and opposition were held in indefinite detention without trial, independent media was suspended, assassinations and kidnappings committed by government forces were common, and Jews, Catholics, and Protestants were routinely arrested, harassed, had their property stolen, and had to submit their weekly sermons to government officials for approval.

Press censorship was widely documented at the time (for example here, here, and here). Ironically, Sanders often referred to anti-Sandinista sentiment in the US as due to “media manipulation” and urged the Nicaraguan government to hone their own media manipulation skills. He defended the Sandinista press censorship, particularly of La Presna newspaper:

When challenged on the Sandinistas’ incessant censorship, Sanders had a disturbing stock answer: Nicaragua was at war with counterrevolutionary forces, funded by the United States, and wartime occasionally necessitated undemocratic measures. (The Sandinista state censor Nelba Blandon offered a more succinct answer: “They [La Prensa] accused us of suppressing freedom of expression. This was a lie and we could not let them publish it.”)….While Freedom House and Amnesty International agitated on behalf of La Prensa, Sanders was making excuses for the government that censored its articles, prevented it from buying newsprint, harassed its staffers, and arrested its journalists.

Sanders has been confronted several times recently about his affectations for the Sandinistas and Castro. He continues to defend his positions on Castro and the Sandinista government of the 1980s. In fact, when asked to describe what makes his brand of socialism different from the communism in Nicaragua and Cuba he has so often praised, he had very little to say. Say, for a moment, that yes, Castro and the Sandinistas did wonderful things for their people, eradicating homelessness, illiteracy, poverty, hunger, and bringing about universal healthcare. It isn’t true, but say that it was – such gross violations of life, liberty, and freedom are hardly a fair price. Sanders has praised the Sandinista and Castro “revolutions” while calling for a revolution of his own. Is that the kind of revolution he is calling for?

1 comment

  1. Brian Utterback

    So what are you saying? You think Sanders supports having food lines and is planning on instituting them in the U.S.? Do you think Sanders supports the atrocities of the Sandinistas and wants to bring them to the U.S.? You know the Contras that the U.S. supported and aided also committed atrocities, right?

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