Sanders Defends Praise for Cuban Regime, Bloomberg Addresses Chinese Communist Party

Updated: 2020-02-26 10:10:16

Top Democratic presidential candidates Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) addressed past comments about authoritarian governments during the debate on Tuesday night in South Carolina.

Sanders, 78, has been under fire since praising the regime of Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator who imprisoned and killed dissidents during his decades in office.

Sanders said during a recent interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that it was “unfair to simply say everything is bad” about Castro’s regime.

“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 response to criticism of his comments—including from some Democrats—the current leader of the Democratic field told the audience at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, “Of course you have a dictatorship in Cuba.”

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, S.C. on Feb. 25, 2020. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

Sanders said that he was only conveying what former President Barack Obama said previously about Cuba, that the country made progress on its education and literacy rate. He argued that candidates should “be honest about American foreign policy.”

“When dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that. But you don’t have to trade love letters with them,” he said.

Bloomberg, 78, has praised the Chinese Communist Party, which is responsible for tens of millions of deaths. On Tuesday night, he said the Chinese regime does not have freedom of press and called its human rights record “abominable.” But America has to deal with China “because our economies are inextricably linked,” he said.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Bloomberg said, serves “at the behest of the Politboro, of their group of people, and there’s no question he has an enormous amount of power.”

“But he does play to his constituency,” he claimed. “You can negotiate with him. That’s exactly what we have to do.”

The Chinese Communist Party removed presidential term limits in 2018, paving the way for Xi to serve indefinitely.

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Democratic presidential candidate former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, S.C. on Feb. 25, 2020. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

Former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, made note of that description, telling the audience that Xi “is a thug, who in fact has a million Uyghurs in ‘reconstruction camps,’ meaning concentration camps.” Sanders also knocked Bloomberg for his remarks about China: “He said that the Chinese government is responsive to the politburo, but who the hell is the politburo responsive to? Who elects the politburo? You have got a real dictatorship there.”

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 38, a frequent Sanders critic, used the situation to promote his argument that the senator shouldn’t be the Democratic nominee.

“I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump, with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s, and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s,” Buttigieg said.

“This is not about what coups were happening in the 1970s or ’80s, this is about the future. This is about 2020. We are not going to survive or succeed, and we’re certainly not going to win by reliving the Cold War. And we’re not going to win these critical, critical House and Senate races if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic Party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime. We’ve got to be a lot smarter about this and look to the future.”

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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