Bernie Sanders Defends Praise of Fidel Castro’s Literacy Programs After Blowback

Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders on Monday defended comments he made to CBS’s “60 Minutes” praising Fidel Castro for literacy programs he introduced in Cuba.

“There were a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate. He formed the literacy brigade,” Sanders said at a CNN town hall in Charleston, South Carolina. Castro, he added, “went out and they helped people learn to read and write. You know what, I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.”

Sanders was criticized by rival presidential candidates Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg, who both suggested he was showing sympathy for a tyrant.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

At the town hall, Sanders listed his record of opposing authoritarian regimes, including Cuba’s. “I have been extremely consistent and critical of all authoritarian regimes all over the world — including Cuba, including Nicaragua, including Saudi Arabia, including China, including Russia. I happen to believe in democracy, not authoritarianism.”

He also sought to put an end to questions about how he planned to pay for his expansive policy proposals by handing out a paper listing funding sources and costs of all of his major plans.

Earlier: Sanders’ Early Wins Make Him the One to Beat for the Nomination

The Vermont senator was asked by a voter what made his promises different from Donald Trump’s in 2016 when he said he would build a wall at the Mexican border without specifying legitimate financing sources. Sanders turned to the CNN host, Chris Cuomo, and said he anticipated the question and handed him the documents.

The list was also published on his website and details his plans for his major proposals, including Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and eliminating student loan debt. Sanders struggled in the interview with “60 Minutes,” which was broadcast on Sunday, to say precisely how he would fund Medicare for All.

“I can’t rattle off to you every nickel and every dime,” Sanders said on the program after repeated questions about how he planned to pay for his proposals. “But we have accounted for — you — you talked about Medicare for All. We have options out there that will pay for it.”

Asked at the town hall who he would choose as his running mate, the 78-year-old candidate said that it would be “presumptuous” to make a pick so early in the election season. He did provide one detail on that selection:

“I will tell you one thing though — it is that that person will not be an old white guy. That I can say.”

Sanders also denied a report in the Atlantic, amplified in an attack ad by the Biden campaign, that he had considered mounting a primary challenge to President Barack Obama when he was running for re-election in 2012.

The reports are “absolutely untrue,” he said, adding that “I did not give any consideration to running for president of the United States until 2015.”

Sanders said the Biden ad was typical of the “silly season” near the end of an election when “people say things they should not say.”

He was also asked about a Washington Post report that intelligence officials had briefed him about efforts by Russia to benefit his campaign. Sanders said it wasn’t clear how the Russians were attempting to influence the election, though he said they could be spreading disinformation and fueling divisive rhetoric online as they did in 2016.

An example of Russian interference, Sanders said, may have been the attacks last week on leaders of the Culinary Workers Union in Nevada that were attributed to some his followers. Sanders said it was inconceivable that any of his supporters would attack union leaders, who had not endorsed him.

“Does anybody really think — anyone really think who’s a supporter of mine, that they would make ugly attacks against really excellent trade union leaders? It just seemed to me kind of fishy. That was my suspicion,” Sanders said. When pushed to clarify if it was the Russians he said it “might be. I didn’t say it was definitively.”

Sanders repudiated any backer who engaged in abusive behavior. He said that “99.9% of our supporters are fantastic people,” but, he added, “I’m not going to say we don’t have some jerks out there.”

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