Sen. Bernie Sanders defends his praise for the Castro regime's early literacy programs, but added he "happens to believe in democracy, not authoritarianism."
"China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian. But can anyone deny -- I mean, the facts are clear -- that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history? Do I get criticized because I say that? That's the truth. So that is the fact. End of discussion," he said. "Truth is truth, all right?"
CNN, CHRIS CUOMO: Let's take one more step down the road of the stigma that's coming from some of your fellow Democrats. You said on "60 Minutes" this weekend it is unfair to simply say everything is bad with the way Fidel Castro ruled in Cuba. Now Democratic members of Congress who represent Cuban Americans in Florida -- obviously you've got to win there -- they're attacking your comment as "absolutely unacceptable," singing the praises of a murderous tyrant. Response?
BERNIE SANDERS: The response was, when Castro first came to power, which was, when, '59? Does that sound right?
CUOMO: '59, '60.
SANDERS: OK. You know what did? He initiated a major literacy program. There was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate. And he formed a literacy brigade -- you may read that -- he 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.
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.
But, you know, you can't say -- China is another example, all right? China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian. But can anyone deny -- I mean, the facts are clear -- that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history? Do I get criticized because I say that? That's the truth. So that is the fact. End of discussion.
CUOMO: So to the Democrats who say you don't say good things about Fidel Castro, he destroyed freedoms in that country, he played -- picked winners and losers and killed them and put them in prison forever. You don't give him a pat on the back for anything.
SANDERS: You don't -- it's not a -- truth is truth, all right?
Now, if you want to disagree with me, if somebody wants to say that -- and by the way, all of those congresspeople that you mentioned just so happen to be supporting other candidates, just accidentally, no doubt, coincidentally. But, you know, the truth is the truth. And that's what happened in the first years of the Castro regime.