The moderators of Univision’s Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday pressed Bernie Sanders to explain comments he made praising Cuba’s communist government when he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
“In 1961 they invaded Cuba. Everyone was totally convinced Castro was the worst guy in the world. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave them health care and totally transformed their society,” Sanders said in an 1985 video unearthed by Buzzfeed News last year.
Sanders explained to the audience in Miami, Florida—home to many Cuban exiles—that the comments were geared towards the United States’ failed attempt to invade Cuba.
“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 they wanted do in Latin America,” Sanders said, pivoting towards his criticism of Henry Kissinger and the Reagan administration’s actions in the region.
He was asked one more time if he regretted how he characterized Communist leaders like Fidel Castro in the past.
“The key issue here was whether the United States should go around overthrowing small Latin American countries,” Sanders said.
He didn’t address the question head on, but said he hoped “authoritarian undemocratic” Cuba would become a democratic country. He added that Cuba has made “good advances” in healthcare and education.
“I think by restoring pull diplomatic relations with Cuba, it will result in significant improvements to the lives of Cubans and it will help the United States,” he said.