Top Democratic presidential candidates Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) addressed past comments about authoritarian governments during the debate on Tuesday night in South Carolina.
Sanders, 78, has been under fire since praising the regime of Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator who imprisoned and killed dissidents during his decades in office.
Sanders said during a recent interview with CBSs “60 Minutes” that it was “unfair to simply say everything is bad” about Castros regime.
“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 said.
In response to criticism of his comments—including from some Democrats—the current leader of the Democratic field told the audience at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, “Of course you have a dictatorship in Cuba.”
Sanders said that he was only conveying what former President Barack Obama said previously about Cuba, that the country made progress on its education and literacy rate. He argued that candidates should “be honest about American foreign policy.”
“When dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that. But you dont have to trade love letters with them,” he said.
Bloomberg, 78, has praised the Chinese Communist Party, which is responsible for tens of millions of deaths. On Tuesday night, he said the Chinese regime does not have freedom of press and called its human rights record “abominable.” But America has to deal with China “because our economies are inextricably linked,” he said.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Bloomberg said, serves “at the behest of the Politboro, of their group of people, and theres no question he has an enormous amount of power.”
“But he does play to his constituency,” he claimed. “You can negotiate with him. Thats exactly what we have to do.”
The Chinese Communist Party removed presidential term limits in 2018, paving the way for Xi to serve indefinitely.