The Red-Baiting Attacks on Bernie Sanders Ignore His Flawed Foreign Policy Record

Bernie Sanders has once again caused a firestorm of condemnation from America’s talking heads and political mouthpieces. What did Sanders say this time that got pundits like Republican strategist and CNN commentator Ana Navarro so heated?

In an interview with Anderson Cooper, the presidential candidate said:

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?”

This understated praising of a single policy created by a political leader who passed away four years ago was enough to get the mainstream media so hyped that by day’s end #FidelCastro was a trending topic on Twitter.

In nearly any other country, pointing out the successful policy of a political leader while condemning everything else about them would not be controversial, but in the United States, where any support, be it real or perceived, for a socialist government is labeled un-American. What Sanders said, therefore, should be considered nothing less than sacrilege in mainstream American political discourse.

Despite the public outbursts of anger and vitriol, no one is challenging the accuracy of Sanders’ claim about the success of Cuban Socialism under the leadership of Castro. Indeed, Castro’s initiatives saw large swaths of Cuba’s population learn to read and write for the first time. In fact, in the 1950s Cuba’s literacy rate was around 70 percent. Today it stands at 99.8 percent.

Instead, pundits accuse Sanders of providing cover for a “dictatorship.” Ana Navarro, daughter of a Nicaraguan terrorist Contra who openly boasts of her ties with former terrorists, said on Twitter:

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former lieutenant governor of Florida tweeted:

While it may be the first reaction by some elements of the left to heap praise on Bernie for saying a couple of nice things about governments that are relentlessly attacked by the U.S. military-industrial complex and its mouthpieces in government and in media, it is important to see Sanders’ thoughts and actions for what they are. What these pundits failed to take into account is that Sanders has repeatedly sided with the State Department, corporate media, and the same talking heads that are now attacking him over U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba.

Speaking at a CNN town hall on February 24, Sanders said:

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, Nicaragua, including Saudi Arabia, including China, including Russia. I happen to believe in democracy, not authoritarianism.”

In what way do these comments stand in opposition to the picture that both the media and State Department say about these countries? Sanders has repeatedly lent his voice to the chorus of attacks made by the people who are now criticizing him.

He has dismissed Hugo Chavez, the late President of Venezuela who was elected in what the Carter Foundation called one of the most transparent and secure electoral systems in the world, as nothing more than a “dead, communist, dictator.”

He has repeatedly distanced himself from socialist, anti-colonial, and independence based movements and governments, going as far as to say:

When I talk about Democratic socialist, I’m not looking at Venezuela. I’m not looking at Cuba. I’m looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden.”

Sanders is on the record opposing military intervention in Venezuela, but that doesn’t make him a radical lover of Chavismo, it just means he knows how tired people in this country are of war.

Sanders is quoted as saying “The world community has got to be mindful of the humanitarian suffering and the hunger that’s going on in Venezuela right now,” yet he refuses to talk about the economic war, the sanctions, or the internal sabotage that Venezuela has been battling for years, making him no better than the likes of Navarro or Marco Rubio.

He has called democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro a “vicious tyrant” and has called for “free and fair elections” despite the fact that elections were held as recently as 2018 and were monitored by dozens of international observers.

In repeating these hegemonic media fallacies, Sanders lends his voice to the cause of legitimizing regime change in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. More broadly, he has put himself on the same side as warmongers by repeatedly voting for ever-increasing defense appropriations bills, up until Trump was elected at least.

Sanders voted in support of regime change in Libya and against repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force, a tool long used by multiple administration as justification for military intervention overseas. The right needs to stop pretending that Sanders is a Chavista, Sandinista, or the next Che Guevara, and some elements of the left need to stop doing the same.

Feature photo | Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Valley High School in Santa Ana, Calif., Feb. 21, 2020. Damian Dovarganes | AP

Dakotah Lilly is a political activist and the co-founder of Students and youth For a New America.



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