Image Credits: Caroline Brehman/Getty Images

Vermont Senator and Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders likes to pretend that countries like Denmark and Canada are his vision for “democratic socialism” but before he started using these countries as the poster child for the government takeover of industry and innovation, his praise was given to authoritarian leaders who violated the basic human rights of their constituents. Sanders has a long history of supporting brutal dictators. Here are just three examples of his praise for authoritarian socialist leaders:

1) Sanders praise for Fidel Castro in Cuba

In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Sanders praised former Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro saying “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know? 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?”

While Sanders did make a point to condemn the fact that Castro imprisoned any individuals who disagreed with him, he continually noted that not “everything was bad.”

Here is the problem with this logic. Cuba’s free healthcare and massive literacy campaigns were only made possible by a culture of forced compliance and political imprisonment.

Just look at the numbers. Credible estimates of the Castro regime’s death toll ran from 35,000 to 141,000, with a median of 73,000. Anyone who disagreed with the political system was imprisoned or sentenced to death by firing squad. Achieving 99% literacy is a lot easier when anyone who disagrees with the education system is killed.

In order to solve the doctor shortage that inevitably comes with providing free healthcare to every citizen, the Castro regime and its predecessors have forced students to become doctors. In a 2017 New York Times article, escaped doctors described working in the country as “being a slave.” Thousands of doctors have desperately attempted to flee the country through Brazil. It is easy to provide free healthcare when you utilize slave labor to achieve it.

It is easy for Sanders to pretend this is an issue of the past and today Cubans simply reap the benefits of Castro’s mistakes. That is not true. Even today, Cuba uses political imprisonment to suppress opposition and ensure compliance to their socialist system. Today, many of the Cuban people live in poverty and on the brink of famine, desperate for a capitalist revolution. America needs a leader who will support the people, not the dictators who have destroyed the beautiful country.

2) Sanders vacation in and defense of Soviet Union leaders 

In 1988, Senator Sanders not only praised the Soviet Union, he traveled there and celebrated the country’s “success.” In hours of footage released by the Washington Post and reported on widely, Sanders is seen sitting with his delegation at a table under a portrait of Vladimir Lenin. He praises the virtues of Soviet life and culture. In fact, he makes jokes with his host warning the American guests not to cross the KGB.

Keep in mind, this was during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was the United State’s number one global enemy. Also keep in mind that under Leninism and the communism that Sanders praised, historians estimate no fewer than 15 million people were murdered by the state.

During the time Sanders was there, the Soviet Union engaged in brutal suppression of political dissent that Sanders actively joked about. Like in all cases of socialism, it is easy to laugh off the casualties of the system when you are associated with the wealthy elite reaping the benefits. Even if Sanders has since distanced himself from these communist systems, it should be a real concern that he could not see the reality of the countries governing system while visiting it. It should make all American deeply fear his foreign policy judgement.

3) Sanders encouragement of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela

Sanders has accused right-wing thought leaders of wrongly comparing his “democratic socialism” to “authoritarian socialism,” but the truth is, Sanders has done this all on his own with his praise of authoritarian leaders in Venezuela. In 2003, Sanders signed a letter of support for Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez. Even in 2011, Sanders praised the leadership of Chavez in a release that is still on his official website saying:

“These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger. Who’s the banana republic now?”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch described the presidency of Chavez as “characterized by a dramatic concentration of power and open disregard for basic human rights guarantees.” Specifically, Chavez engaged in the political takeover of the country’s entire judicial system. He placed the press under federal censorship. He also imprisoned political dissenters.

Even under the new leader, Nicolas Maduro, political opponents are imprisoned. Protests against the established government result in violence against citizens. Extrajudicial killings are common. The economic system Sanders praised as “more equal” than the United State’s government has resulted in food insecurity in 80 percent of Venezuelan households. The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has resulted in one of the largest refugee crises the world has ever seen.

Still, last year Sanders refused to call Maduro a dictator.

This is not just an article about Sanders horrible foreign policy judgement and close association with dictators. It is an honest account of the horrors of the socialist systems Sanders continues to praise. His agenda has always been clear. In Cuba, the Soviet Union, and even Venezuela, the public willfully embraced the vision of socialism only to have their leaders destroy the country they loved. That vision is not reality. For generations, millions of people in these countries have dealt with and continue to deal with the consequences of a false promise and manipulation by wealthy politicians claiming to support the working class.