“They are not getting their message of what they’re trying to do out to the American people.”
After Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday announced he is running for president, a 1985 video resurfaced of the Vermont independent admitting that he had advised communist leaders on how to “manipulate” Americans.
In the interview with Channel 17/Town Meeting Television – which also made the rounds online in 2015 after Sanders announced his first failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination – Sanders spoke about his trip that year to Nicaragua at the invitation of the Sandinista government, a revolutionary socialist movement and then-US adversary.
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Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, praised Sandinista leaders for their “intelligence and sincerity” and their “very deep convictions.” He called Nicaragua’s authoritarian president, Daniel Ortega, an “impressive guy” and Father d’Escoto, then the country’s minister of foreign affairs, a “very gentle, very loving man.”
Of then-culture minister Ernesto Cardenal, Sanders said: “He has grey hair, and he really does remind you of a hippie.”
The Soviet-backed Sandinista government committed mass executions and oppressed religious minorities and indigenous peoples, all of which was already known about by the time of Sanders’ TV interview.
Sanders said that during his visit to Nicaragua, he advised the government officials to “very greatly improve their ability to communicate with the average American” – seemingly siding with the Sandinistas over the Reagan administration.
“My point to Ortega is they are not getting their message of what they’re trying to do out to the American people, and they just don’t have that kind of sophistication to understand how to manipulate the media, as you know, the White House has dozens of people who are trained, they are trained and well-paid people who are professional manipulators of the media,” he said.
Sanders also had kind words for Fidel Castro, then Cuba’s communist dictator and another Soviet ally, who supported the Sandinistas and militantly opposed the United States. While the Vermont socialist acknowledged that Castro was not “perfect,” he credited him with having “totally transformed” Cuban society, supposedly for the better.
Sanders highlighted the Castro government’s improvements to education and healthcare, while ignoring its totalitarian political system and broken economy.
“In 1959 […] everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world and all of the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro,” said Sanders. “They forgot that he educated their kids, gave their kids healthcare, totally transformed the society. But just because [President] Ronald Reagan dislikes these people does not mean to say that the people in their own nations feel the same way.”
During a Democratic presidential primary debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016, Sanders defended his comments in the three-decade-old interview. He said his intent was to condemn Reagan’s interventions in South American politics, which infamously included supporting the right-wing Contras’ rebellion against the Sandinistas even after Congress outlawed the policy.
“What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to try to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that the United States was wrong trying to overthrow in 1954 the democratically elected government of Guatemala,” Sanders said.
Clinton dismissed Sanders’ explanation and noted that in an unaired portion of the same interview, he had approvingly remarked on the “revolution of values” occurring in Nicaragua and Cuba.
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In response, Sanders said he hoped that Cuba would stop being authoritarian. But he added that “it would be wrong not to state in Cuba they have made some good advances in health care” and “some progress in education.” He called for restoring full diplomatic relations with the Castro regime.
Although it was Clinton who went on to win the Democratic nomination, before losing to President Donald Trump in the general election, Sanders is widely credited with moving the party leftward on economic issues. He was helped by the US financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 and the resulting Great Recession.
Leading 2020 presidential candidates from the Democratic party, as well as its star lawmakers, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, now support government-provided universal healthcare and massive spending programs like the Green New Deal. According to recent public opinion polls, Democratic voters for the first time in a decade prefer socialism to capitalism, even as Republicans remain strong supporters of free markets.