Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist from Vermont who is now challenging Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination, praised the Castro regime and Nicaragua’s Sandinista government upon returning from a trip to South America in 1985.
In an interview that aired on Channel 17/Town Meeting Television, Sanders called Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, “an impressive guy,” and said that while Fidel Castro wasn’t “perfect,” Americans shouldn’t forget that “just because Ronald Reagan dislikes these people, doesn’t mean that people in their own nations feel the same way.”
According to his book, Outsider in the House, Sanders traveled to Nicaragua on the invitation of the Sandinista government, to witness the celebration of the “Seventh Anniversary of the Revolution.” By his own account, he was the “highest ranking American official present” at the event.
Upon his return, Sanders said that he was “impressed” with the “intelligence and sincerity” of Sandinista leaders, arguing that they were not the “political hacks” some had portrayed them to be.
“You do not fight, and lose your family, and get tortured, to go to jail for years to be a hack,” said Sanders, adding that the Sandinistas had “very deep convictions.”
Sanders also said he was “impressed” by Father d’Escoto — at the time, Nicaragua’s Minister of Foreign Affairs — who he described as “very gentle” and a “loving man.”
Acknowledging that his favorable assessment of the Sandinistas could lead to his being “attacked by every editorial writer in the free press for being a ‘dumb dupe,’” Sanders countered that such a reaction was due in part to the fact that the Reagan White House had “trained and well paid people who are professional manipulators of the media,” and who possessed a “sophistication” that Ortega and the Sandinistas lacked.
The Sandinistas, Sanders explained, had to “improve their ability to communicate with the average American.”
Sanders also commented on Fidel Castro, pointing to the lack of resistance to Castro as proof that Americans would be “very, very mistaken” to expect a popular uprising against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
“In 1959 […] everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world and all of the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro,” said Sanders. “They forgot that he educated their kids, gave their kids healthcare, totally transformed the society.”
“So they expected this tremendous uprising in Cuba,” Sanders continued, but “it never came. And if they are expecting a tremendous uprising in Nicaragua, they are very, very, very mistaken.”
Sanders insisted that he did not mean to suggest “that Fidel Castro and Cuba are perfect; they certainly are not.”
But “just because Ronald Reagan dislikes these people,” he argued, “doesn’t mean that people in their own nations feel the same way.”
This article originally appeared on BuzzFeed.