We Should NOT Be So Quick to Forget the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s!

PowerPoint slide that reads “Bernie Sanders and the Cuba Controversy” written in black on a blue background.

Listening to Mayor Pete and the newsroom pundits chastising Bernie Sanders for supporting the revolutionary movements of the 1960s and for criticizing U.S. support of dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s turns my stomach.

Sorry, but Bernie lived through the historic events that Pete and the pundits clearly need to brush up on.

Born in 1961, I remember my cousins staying with us in California while on leave from their tours in Vietnam. I remember the “hippy house” down the street where the girls donned long flowing skirts and the guys wore their hair in ponytails. It was the original home of the family that owned the orange grove in the shadow of Disneyland that our neighborhood had been carved out from. My mother warned me to stay away from those hippies lest they push their drugs on me. My father criticized the draft dodgers and others who protested the war. But as the conflict in Southeast Asia dragged on and the son of a family friend returned from Vietnam in a sealed casket — his parents never knowing if their son’s body was actually in that box — my father’s attitude shifted. My dad, who served in the Pacific during the WWII, whose older brother survived the Normandy Invasion, could not initially understand how this generation could ignore their duty to our nation. But after my cousins finally returned from the war with raging drug habits and the neighbor boy returned missing both his legs, my father did a complete 180, stating that he would drive his son across the Canadian border to keep him out of this war. By the end of the decade, after having been properly introduced by the neighbor whose son lost his legs in the war, my mother invited two of the hippy girls over and paid them to help her with the heavy housework she was not up to completing. My parents experienced a complete change of heart as the events of the 1960s came to fruition, as did many others of their generation. This was also the era of the Civil Rights Movement, in which Bernie played a part, participating in the 1963 March on Washington and advocating for fair housing and against segregation in Chicago. There was just cause for revolutionary actions in the 1960s, and Bernie supported the causes that mattered.

During the South Carolina debate, Pete Buttigieg stated, “We are not going to survive or succeed, and certainly not going to win by reliving the Cold War, and we’re not going to win these critical House and Senate races if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic Party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime.” To be clear, Bernie Sanders is not on a soapbox singing the praises of Cuban-style socialism by acknowledging the few good things that Castro did, which genuinely helped his people. It is more concerning that Mayor Pete dismisses the significance of the Cold War during a time when the Russians are posturing to diminish America’s position as the global leader and President Trump is acting as Putin’s puppet.

The premier Cold War event was the Vietnam War — or the American War as it is called in Vietnam. It was a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union and a misguided attempt to halt the spread of communism. Yet, in the beginning, it was a genuine effort by the French to hold onto their colonial territory; whereas to the Vietnamese, it was a fight against French and later American imperialism. However, the main venue of American imperialism was in our own hemisphere — Latin America, where we routinely overthrew governments who did not agree to our demands: Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and of course Chile stand out. The integrity of Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba was dependent upon breaking free from American hegemony that had existed since the Spanish-American War in 1898. Sadly, Fidel Castro instituted a totalitarian regime that disallowed freedom of speech and freedom of the press, rather than truly liberating his people. When the United States placed an embargo on the import of Cuban sugar, Fidel fully embraced the Soviets, who became his benefactors until their collapse in 1991. Wealthy Cubans got the hell out — most going to Miami. Poor Cubans, as always, remained behind. In addition to establishing Committees in Defense of the Revolution wherein neighbors were pressured to spy upon and turn in their neighbors who were not enthusiastic supporters of the revolution. Thousands of dissenters were incarcerated and many were executed. While there is plenty to criticize regarding Fidel Castro, there were some legitimate benefits to the Cuban people following the revolution. As Bernie noted, Fidel Castro initiated a literacy campaign that resulted in a literacy rate comparable to that of the U.S. and Canada. Similarly, Fidel Castro promoted medical training which resulted in the highest per capita amount of doctors in the hemisphere and life expectancy and infant mortality rates in Cuba that mirror or surpass the statistics in the U.S.

While it is fair for the media to unearth an old interview of Bernie Sanders praising Castro with regards to Cuba’s dramatic improvements in literacy, it is unfair that they failed to place it in factual context or acknowledge the historical context. Furthermore, it is absurd to criticize an outstanding achievement in literacy just because a class of pundits or politicians do not approve of the methodology utilized or the other policies instituted by the nation’s leadership. Would the Cuban people have been better off illiterate and medically neglected, rather than educated and healthy just because the improvements were championed by an autocrat who eliminated all dissension? Be real! Historically, Bernie is on the correct side of this debate, and I expect more interviews to be unearthed where Bernie criticizes the disastrous U.S. foreign policy actions in Latin America and beyond, such as support of Contra War in Nicaragua against the socialist Sandinistas who overthrew the dictator Anastasio Somoza and support of the military dictatorship in El Salvador during their civil war, which ultimately resulted in the worst gang in American history — Mara Salvatrucha aka MS-13. The history of this era should not be dismissed by the pundits or Mayor Pete, despite any bad light it shines on the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations.

I understand that the establishment Democrats are scared shitless of Bernie Sanders — and his devoted followers. Bernie obviously provides ample fodder for their rage with his progressive platform, but I implore my Democratic friends to be fair and honest with regards for the historical context of any statements made by Senator Sanders regarding Cold War conflicts.


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