In a "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday night, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders doubled down on comments he made in the 1980s where he praised late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. When asked about his current stance on Castro, the Democratic front-runner said he continues supporting aspects of his totalitarian regime.
"We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba," Sanders told host Anderson Cooper before pivoting to defending Castro. "But it's unfair to say that everything is bad."
He then began parroting talking points often cited by the country's communist government. "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 is parroting communist propaganda
While it is true that Castro implemented a reading program on the island after seizing power in a bloody revolution in 1959, Cuba's literacy rate was already high for a Latin American nation at the time and its educational gains have been comparable to those of its peers in the years since.
As attorney Hans Bader noted in an August 2016 article, nearly eight out of 10 Cubans already knew how to read by 1950. This figure was similar to that of Costa Rica, which also achieved 100 percent literacy over the following decades — except Costa Rica and other countries did so without the kind of Marxist dictatorship that Cubans have endured under the Castro regime for over 61 years.
According to UNESCO, Cuba had about the same literacy rate as Costa Rica and Chile in 1950 (close to 80%). And it has almost the same literacy rate as they do today (close to 100%). Meanwhile, Latin American countries that were largely illiterate in 1950 — like Peru, Brazil, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic — are largely literate today, closing much of the gap with Cuba. El Salvador had a less than 40% literacy rate in 1950, but has an 88% literacy rate today. Brazil and Peru had a less than 50% literacy rate in 1950, but today, Peru has a 94.5% literacy rate, and Brazil a 92.6% literacy rate. The Dominican Republic's rate rose from a little over 40% to 91.8%. While Cuba made substantial progress in reducing illiteracy in Castro's first years in power, its educational system has stagnated since, even as much of Latin America improved.
The island's literacy program was part of a Marxist indoctrination effort
Reached by TheBlaze on Sunday evening, Dr. Andy Gomez, a retired University of Miami professor who led the school's Cuban Studies department for decades, said the democratic socialist presidential candidate is misinforming voters about the true motives behind Castro's education efforts.
"Contrary to what Senator Bernie Sanders said, the literacy campaign used by the Castro regime was part of their strategic plan to indoctrinate the Cuban people by using education at all levels in support of a Marxist ideology," Gomez said.
Claims of Castro's health care, education, and social achievements have been a common talking point of the Castro regime for decades.
As National Review's Jay Nordlinger noted, in 1986 former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares was asked at a Harvard forum about Cuba's literacy rate and other supposed accomplishments of the island's communist revolution. He responded by noting that not only are many of the regime's claims false, even if they were true, they came at the expense of basic human freedoms and dignity.
Say all those things are true. They're not, but just say they are. Can't you have those things without torturing people? Can't you have them without wrongly imprisoning them? Can't you have them without killing them? Without denying them rights? Without forbidding them to speak freely, without forbidding them to worship, without forbidding them to vote and have a normal political life and pursue their own destinies, and so on? Why is material well-being — not that Cuba has it, or anything remotely like it — but why is material well-being incompatible with freedom? Or not even with freedom: with the absence of a stifling, horrid dictatorship? Why?