Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg picked apart recent comments about the Fidel Castro regime made by rival candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), accusing the senator of "encouraging people to look on the bright side" of the repressive dictatorship.
Buttigieg gave his scathing critique of the self-described democratic socialist's recent comments at a Monday night CNN Town Hall event in Charleston, S.C.
"Sen. Sanders has been criticized for remarks he made praising a literacy program during Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba," began CNN host Don Lemon's question, which noted that Sanders had stood by his comments earlier at the event. "He said 'You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.' Do you think that's a fair assessment?"
"So, this is part of what I'm getting at when I say that — in our one shot to defeat Donald Trump — we should think carefully about the consequences of nominating Sen. Sanders," Buttigieg began. "I don't want — as a Democrat — I don't want to be explaining why our nominee is encouraging people to look on the bright side of the Castro regime when we are going into the election of our lives. We need to stand against unequivocally against dictatorships everywhere in the world."
Lemon followup up, asking "So you don't think that's a good excuse? He says he thinks he's a dictator, but literacy is a good thing. There's no nuance to that?"
"Of course, literacy is a good thing," Buttigieg responded, "but why are we spotlighting the literacy programs of a brutal dictator instead of being unambiguous in our condemnation in the way he has treated his own people?"
Earlier that same day, the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor also hit Sanders for his Castro comments in a statement on Twitter, which also included a criticism of President Donald Trump's foreign policy.
"After four years of looking on in horror as Trump cozied up to dictators, we need a president who will be extremely clear in standing against regimes that violate human rights abroad," Buttigieg wrote. "We can't risk nominating someone who doesn't recognize this."
Sanders also took heat from other Democrats for his Castro literacy comments on Monday.
Fellow 2020 presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg wrote on social media that "Fidel Castro left a dark legacy of forced labor camps, religious repression, widespread poverty, firing squads, and the murder of thousands of his own people. But sure, Bernie, let's talk about his literacy program."
"Make no mistake: Bernie Sanders' comments on Fidel Castro are a part of a larger pattern throughout his life to embrace autocratic leaders and governments across the globe," read a Monday statement from former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign. "He seems to have found more inspiration in the Soviets, Sandinistas, Chavistas, and Castro than in America."
"As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders' comments on Castro's Cuba absolutely unacceptable," wrote Rep Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) on Twitter.
"The Castro regime murdered and jailed dissidents, and caused unspeakable harm to too many South Florida families," Mucarsel-Powell added. "To this day, it remains an authoritarian regime that oppresses its people, subverts the free press, and stifles a free society."