At last night’s debate in Miami, Bernie Sanders was asked a difficult question about his words of support for Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Fidel Castro in Cuba. While he skirted answering about those remarks specifically, I have to agree with how he categorized the U.S. position over those years in Central and South America.
What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to try to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that the United States was wrong trying to overthrow in 1954, the government — democratically elected government of Guatemala.
Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America we’ve operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine, and that said the United States had the right do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America. So I actually went to Nicaragua and I very shortly opposed the Reagan administration’s efforts to overthrow that government. And I strongly opposed earlier Henry Kissinger and the — to overthrow the government of Salvador Aliende (ph) in Chile.
I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get involved in regime change. And all of these actions, by the way, in Latin America, brought forth a lot of very strong anti-American sentiments. That’s what that was about.
Sanders has been wrong in stating his opposition to this kind of regime change by applying it to current events in the Middle East. But he’s right that the use of the Monroe Doctrine during the Cold War often played out with the United States intervening in Latin America to thwart movements towards democracy by tying them to the Soviet Union. As such, this country was involved in coups and supported repressive dictators against those efforts. That is the opposite of what we have done in the Middle East.
But Clinton’s response to the point Sanders made was troubling.
And I just want to add one thing to the question you were asking Senator Sanders. I think in that same interview, he praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves.
I just couldn’t disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.
While no one should support the repressive measures used by leaders like Fidel Castro, the reality Sanders was speaking to is that it was the dictators supported by the United States in Latin American during those years who oppressed, disappeared and imprisoned or even killed people for expressing their opinions.
“It opens the door for the U.S. government by removing this argument that has been a pretext and an issue that has been invoked, not only by Cuba but other countries in the region, as a distraction,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of the Latin America program at Human Rights Watch, who attended a round-table discussion of civil society leaders with Mr. Obama on Friday.
As a result, the President was able to say this to the people of those countries:
“As you work for change, the United States will stand up alongside you every step of the way,” he told Latin American leaders and civil society representatives at a forum on Friday. “The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity – those days are past.”
It would be helpful for Hillary Clinton to affirm that promise rather than muddy the waters about the past.