Despite widespread backlash over his praise of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro during an interview with “60 minutes” Sunday, Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) doubled down on his positive comments on the brutal communist leader’s regime during a townhall with CNN on Monday, declaring, “The truth is the truth.” But a past fact-check by the Washington Post on the claim Sanders continues to push suggests that the socialist senator’s “truth” about Castro’s regime lacks key context and relies on highly questionable data from the dictatorial regime.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad.” Sanders told Anderson Cooper in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday. “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?”
During the CNN townhall Monday, Chris Cuomo pressed Sanders on the claim. “So the Democrats who say, ‘You don’t say good things about Fidel Castro — he destroyed freedoms in that country, he played winners and losers and killed them and put them in prison forever. You don’t give him a pat on the back for anything.”
“You don’t give him— it’s not a question— Truth is truth,” said a clearly frustrated Sanders, a line that drew some applause and cheers from the largely left-wing audience. “Now if you want to disagree with me, if somebody wants to say that — and, by the way, all of those congress people that you mentioned just so happen to be supporting other candidates, just accidentally no doubt, coincidentally. But, you know, the truth is the truth. And that’s what happened in the first years of the Castro regime.”
“There was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate,” Sanders claimed during the event. “He formed a literacy brigade, they went out and helped people learn to read and write. You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.”
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) February 25, 2020
So, is Sanders’ “truth” about the Castro regime actually true? While the basic assertion that Castro did implement a literacy program is certainly true, the underlying premise — that the “massive” literacy program was massively effective — is an oft-repeated claim about the communist regime that relies on questionable data and leaves out key context that ultimately undermines it.
As explained in a Washington Post fact-check of leftist Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s similar claim back in 2016, when Castro came to power, Cuba already had a strong literacy rate. In the areas of education and healthcare, the Post explained, “many other Latin American countries made far more dramatic strides in the past six decades, without the need for a communist dictatorship.”
“A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation,” Trudeau said in response to Castro’s death in late November 2016. The Post gave the claim three Pinnochios:
Trudeau appears to accept outdated Cuban government spin as current fact. The reality is that education and health care were already relatively vibrant in Cuba before the revolution, compared with other Latin American countries. While the Castro regime has not let that slip — and given greater access to the poor — it is a stretch to claim Castro was responsible for “significant improvements,” especially more recently.
Many other Latin American countries made far more dramatic strides in the past six decades, without the need for a communist dictatorship; Cuba simply had a head start when Castro seized power.
Moreover, the focus on health care and education should not detract from the fact that overall living standards, as measured by gross domestic product, calorie consumption and other measures, have declined significantly under communist rule. Without big handouts from first the Soviet Union and then Venezuela, the economic picture would be even worse.