According to CNN, Bernie Sanders “has been consistent for 40 years.” Some find this reassuring. Bernie is not a finger-in-the-wind politician who tacks this way or that depending upon what’s popular. On the other hand, if someone has never changed his mind throughout 78 years of life, it suggests ideological rigidity and imperviousness to evidence, not high principle.
Why make a fuss about Bernie’s past praise of Communist dictatorships? After all, the Cold War ended three decades ago, and a would-be President Sanders cannot exactly surrender to the Soviet Union.
It’s a moral issue. Sanders was not a liberal during the Cold War, i.e. someone who favored arms control, peace talks, and opposed support for anti-Communist movements. He was an outright Communist sympathizer, meaning he was always willing to overlook or excuse the crimes of regimes like Cuba and Nicaragua; always ready to suggest that only American hostility forced them to, among other things, arrest their opposition, expel priests, and dispense with elections.
Good ol’ consistent Bernie reprised one of the greatest hits of the pro-Castro Left last week on 60 Minutes. When Anderson Cooper pressed the senator by noting that Castro imprisoned a lot of dissidents, Sanders said he condemned such things. But even that grudging acknowledgment rankled the old socialist, who then rushed to add, “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing?”
Actually, the first thing Castro did upon seizing power (note Sanders’s whitewashing term “came into office”) was to march 600 of Fulgencio Batista’s supporters into two of the island’s largest prisons, La Cabana and Santa Clara. Over the next five months, after rigged trials, they were shot. Some “trials” amounted to public spectacles. A crowd of 18,000 gathered in the Palace of Sports to give a thumbs-down gesture for Jesus Sosa Blanco. Before he was shot, Sosa Blanco noted that ancient Rome couldn’t have done it better.
Batista was a bad guy, one must say. But summary executions are frowned upon by true liberals.
Next, Castro announced that scheduled elections would be postponed indefinitely. The island is still waiting. Within months, he began to close independent newspapers, even some that had supported him during the insurgency. All religious colleges were shuttered in May 1961, their property confiscated by the state. N.B., Senator Sanders: Castro also found time to knee-cap the labor unions. David Salvador, the elected leader of the sugar-workers union had been a vocal Batista opponent. He was arrested in 1962 and would spend twelve years in Cuba’s gulag.
The Black Book of Communism recounts that between 1959 and 1999, more than 100,000 Cubans were imprisoned for political reasons, and between 15,000 and 17,000 people were shot. Neighbors were encouraged to inform on one another and children on their parents. During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, Cuba imprisoned gay people in concentration camps. Like other Communist paradises, Cuba’s greatest export was boat people. About two million of the island’s 11 million inhabitants escaped. Countless others died in the attempt. Did Sanders ever wonder why a country that had done such great work on literacy and health care had to shoot people to prevent them from fleeing?
Bernie Sanders has credulously repeated the other great propaganda talking point about Cuba: its supposedly wonderful “universal” health-care system. It’s not wonderful. Even those wishing to give Cuba the benefit of the doubt note the lack of basic necessities. Many hospitals in the country lack even reliable electricity and clean running water. A 2016 visitor found that patients in one Havana hospital had to bring everything with them — medicine, sheets, towels, etc.
The only working bathroom in the entire hospital had only one toilet. The door didn’t close, so you had to go with people outside watching. Toilet paper was nowhere to be found, and the floor was far from clean.
Yes, Cuba has high rates of literacy, but the state wanted readers in order to propagandize them. Granma tells people what to believe and forbids access to other sources of information. To this day, the regime controls what people can know. There are two Internets on the island. One for tourists and those approved by the government and the other, with restricted access, for the people.
Bernie Sanders has access to all the information he can absorb, and yet he remains an apologist for regimes that violate every standard of decency. Unlike the Cuban people, he is responsible for his own ignorance and pig-headedness. He claims to be a “democratic socialist,” but as his Cuba remarks suggest, the modifier may be just for show.
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Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.