Washington (CNN)Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday defended his past praise of social programs implemented by the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and insisted he opposes authoritarianism.
“I have opposed authoritarianism all over the world,” Sanders said at the Democratic primary debate in South Carolina.
The senator then turned to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who moments earlier said Chinese President Xi Jinping has an “enormous amount of power” but serves at the behest of the Politburo. The Politburo of the Communist Party of China is an elite council of leaders in the party and one step above is the Politburo Standing Committee, a smaller and even more powerful body.
“I was really amazed at what Mayor Bloomberg just said a moment ago,” Sanders said. “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 got a real dictatorship there.”
Sanders faced a wave of bipartisan criticism after he praised a literacy program the Cuban government launched in its first years and asserted to CBS’ “60 Minutes” that “it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad” with the way Castro ruled the country.
Over parts of five decades, Sanders more than any other national political figure has engaged and, at times, defended the Cuban government, Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua and other controversial leaders across Latin America and Russia. These views mark a stark break from the foreign policy consensus that dominated American political circles since the end of World War II.
Sanders said at the debate that his comments on Cuba echoed what former President Barack Obama