Sanders Supported Marxist Totalitarians in Nicaragua
How the self-identified socialist tried to undermine Reagan’s foreign policy in the 1980s.
In recent weeks, leftwing media outlets – after decades of giving Bernie Sanders a free pass -- have finally begun to explore the Vermont senator’s long and well-documented history as an apologist for, and an admirer of, Communist regimes around the world. The media’s sudden decision to focus on Sanders’ very obvious affinity for communism, is motivated by strictly political concerns. In short, they fear that if the senator were to win the Democratic presidential nomination, his pro-communist history would be fully exposed by the Trump campaign. This, in turn, might awaken and frighten large numbers of Americans who thus far have been under the false, benign impression that Sanders is merely a committed “liberal” or “democratic socialist.” Thus, the media have decided that the better strategy would be to try to derail Sanders’ campaign right now, rather than allow him to make it to the November election.
The dirty little secret, however, is that there is scarcely a hairsbreadth of difference between the social and economic policies of Bernie Sanders on the one hand, and those of his Democrat rivals on the other. But those rivals are generally much more careful to frame their socialist, totalitarian agendas with the rhetoric of “liberalism.”
In this article, Discover the Networks examines how Sanders consistently praised the Marxist-Leninist leaders of Nicaragua during the 1980s, and how he sought to undermine the Reagan administration’s efforts in that region.
In 1985 Sanders traveled to Managua, Nicaragua to speak at the sixth anniversary celebration of the revolution by which the Marxist-Leninist Sandinistas had taken power from an American-backed leader, Anastasio Somoza, and had instituted a revolutionary socialist government. The “Sandinista Creed” was unambiguous in its intentions: “I believe in the doctrines and struggles of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Che, the great teachers and guides of the working class, which is the productive and true driving force of the class struggle which will bury forever the dehumanized, anti-Christian exploiting class. I believe in the building of the Marxist-Leninist socialist society.”
In the course of his 1985 speech, Sanders said: “[I]n the last 30 years, the United States has overthrown governments in Guatemala, [the] Dominican Republic, they murdered Salvador Allende in Chile, they’ve overthrown the government of Grenada, they attempted to overthrow the government of Cuba, they overthrew a government in Brazil, and now they are attempting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.” He also denounced the U.S. for “dominating weak nations and poor nations.”
In a letter which he addressed to the people of Nicaragua, Sanders denounced the anti-Communist activities of the Reagan administration, which he said was under the control of corporate interests. Assuring the Nicaraguans that Americans were “fair minded people” who had more to offer “than the bombs and economic sabotage” promoted by President Reagan, he declared: “In the long run, I am certain that you will win, and that your heroic revolution against the Somoza dictatorship will be maintained and strengthened.”
Following his trip to Nicaragua, Sanders reported that he had been “treated in a special way” by his Nicaraguan hosts. He praised the living conditions under that country’s Communist regime:
- “Many of the things that we saw were impressive. There’s a tremendous sense of energy.
- “I was impressed by their intelligence and by their sincerity. These are not political hacks.”
- “No one denies that they are building health clinics. Health care in Nicaragua is now free…. Infant mortality has been greatly reduced.”
- “[The Nicaraguan government is] giving, for the first time in their lives, real land to farmers, so that they can have something that they grow. Nobody denies that they are making significant progress.”
- “Sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country [like Nicaragua] is because people are lining up for food [e.g., bread lines]. That’s a good thing. In other countries, people don’t line up for food. The rich get the food, and the poor starve to death.”
Praising the Nicaraguan government’s seizure of private farms and businesses, Sanders said: “In terms of land reform, giving, for the first time in their lives, real land to farmers. And people of Nicaragua, the poor people, respect that. Rich people, needless to say, are used to having a good life there, are not terribly happy.”
In an August 8, 1985 television interview, Sanders characterized Daniel Ortega as “an impressive guy” while criticizing then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan. “The Sandinista government, in my view, has more support among the Nicaraguan people, substantially more support, than Ronald Reagan has among the American people,” said Sanders. “If President Reagan thinks that any time a government comes along, which in its wisdom, rightly or wrongly, is doing the best for its people, he has the right to overthrow that government, you’re going to be at war not only with all of Latin America, but with the entire Third World.”
Notably, Sanders did not mention the fact that by 1985, watchdog organizations had exposed the Sandinistas as perpetrators of enormous human-rights violations, including mass executions, the persecution of indigenous peoples, and the unexplained disappearance of hundreds of citizens each month.
Accusing the American media and the Reagan administration of deliberately covering up the good news of a successful socialist society, Sanders said: “Many of us get depressed about what’s [supposedly] going on in Nicaragua today, the absolute lies that are coming out of the White House. In fact, we have a right to be very exhilarated.” He praised the Sandinistas for “talking about a transformation of society, giving power to the poor people, to the working people.”
Lauding “the type of example Nicaragua is setting for the rest of Latin America,” Sanders responded to critics of the Sandinistas by saying: “Is [the Sandinistas’] crime that they have built new health clinics, schools, and distributed land to the peasants? Is their crime that they have given equal rights to women? Or that they are moving forward to wipe out illiteracy? No, their crime in Mr. Reagan’s eyes and the eyes of the corporations and billionaires that determine American foreign policy is that they have refused to be a puppet and banana republic to American corporate interests.”
Sanders had no problem with the Sandinistas’ war against La Prensa, a daily newspaper renowned for its criticism of the Daniel Ortega dictatorship. When asked to comment on the Sandinistas’ heavy-handed censorship of Nicaraguan media outlets, Sanders stated that undemocratic measures were sometimes necessary in times of war.
In 1987 Sanders hosted Sandinista politician Nora Astorga in Burlington. Astorga was a woman who, as the publication The Daily Beast puts it, was “notorious for a Mata Hari-like guerrilla operation that successfully lured Gen. Reynaldo Perez-Vega, a high-ranking figure in the Somoza dictatorship, to her apartment with promises of sex. Perez-Vega’s body was later recovered wrapped in a Sandinista flag, his throat slit by his kidnappers.” When Astorga died of cancer in 1988, Sanders publicly praised her as “a very, very beautiful woman” and a “very vital and beautiful woman.” He also speculated that her illness may have been brought about by the stress she felt as a result of American policies toward Nicaragua. “I have my own feelings about what causes cancer, and the psychosomatic aspects of cancer,” said Sanders. “One wonders if the war didn’t claim another victim; a person who couldn’t deal with the tremendous grief and suffering in her own country.”
At one point in the Eighties, Sanders asked a group of University of Vermont students to consider how “we [the United States] deal with Nicaragua, which is in many ways Vietnam, except it’s worse. It’s more gross.” To help offset the effects of America’s many alleged transgressions against Nicaragua, Sanders sought to raise money and material support for the Sandinista revolution; he also established a sister city program in Nicaragua, like he did in the Soviet Union and attempted (without success) to do in Cuba.
In 1991 a sympathetic biographer wrote that Sanders “probably has done more than any other elected politician in the country to actively support the Sandinistas and their revolution.”
To view a comprehensive profile of Bernie Sanders’ political career and agendas, click here.