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Sanders Invokes Obama’s Praise for Cuban Education in Defending His Castro Comments

Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., February 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders invoked Barack Obama during Tuesday evening’s Democratic debate as part of the Vermont senator’s defense of his previous remarks praising aspects of the regime of late Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro.

“What Barack Obama said was they made great progress on education and health care,” Sanders said from the debate stage. “That was Barack Obama.”

Fellow 2020 contender Joe Biden, attempted to push back on Sanders’s characterization of Obama’s remarks.

“He did not in any way suggest that there was anything positive about the Cuban government — acknowledge that they did increase life expectancy, but he went on to condemn the dictatorship,” the former vice president interjected.

“Occasionally, it might be a good idea to be honest about American foreign policy, and that includes the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world — in Chile, in Guatemala, in Iran, and 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,” Sanders continued.

Sanders has doubled down on his praise of elements of the Castro regime since Sunday, when CBS aired comments Sanders made during the 1980s. In the decades-old clip, the Vermont senator claimed that part of the reason the Cuban people did not help the U.S. overthrow Castro’s regime was because the authoritarian leader provided them with health care and education.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but, you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” Sanders said Sunday on 60 Minutes when confronted with those older comments. He went on to praise Castro’s “massive literacy program,” saying, “Is that a bad thing even though Fidel Castro did it?”

He was, however, careful to clarify that he denounces Castro’s practice of imprisoning political opponents.

In March, 2016, Obama visited Cuba and called the country’s education system “an extraordinary resource — a system of education that values every boy and every girl.”

“Look, you’ve made great progress in educating young people,” Obama said he told Castro, speaking days afterwards at a town hall. “Every child in Cuba gets a basic education. That’s a huge improvement from where it was. Medical care. The life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to the United States despite it being a very poor country because they have access to healthcare. That’s a huge achievement.They should be congratulated. But you drive around Havana and, this economy is not working. It looks like it did in the 1950s.”

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