Flashback: Bernie Sanders Offered Advice to Socialist Dictator


If you’ve taken a gander at the political side of Facebook and Twitter these past few days, you’ve probably seen a few passing references to Bernie Sanders praising breadlines.

Depending on your impression of the socialist senator from Vermont, you likely either thought that it was par for the socialist’s course, or some kind of unfair, right-wing exaggeration.

Well, before we make a judgment, let’s give a little more context in terms of where it came from. Over the last few days, ever since Sanders announced his latest presidential campaign, a few vintage videos of Bernie have been making the rounds on social media. And, as it turns out, that whole breadlines comment isn’t even the scariest one.

That award would probably go the period when Sanders — then the mayor of Burlington, Vermont — had just returned from Nicaragua and offered effusive praise for Marxist dictator Daniel Ortega.

Ortega and his Sandanistas were a cause célèbre of the left in the 1980s, mostly because Ronald Reagan opposed them and supported the Contras, a group that sought to overthrow the Sandanista government. There was also that little to-do in which Reagan administration officials diverted money from illegal weapons sales to Iran in order to aid the Contras (I forget the exact name the media gave the scandal, but you may perhaps have heard of it), but this didn’t actually make Ortega any less of a rotter.

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Yet, in the 1985 interview, Sanders says that Ortega was “an impressive man.”

During the clip, a reporter asks Sanders “how (the Sandanistas) could organize their PR a little bit more effectively.”

“The point that I tried to make to many of the people that I spoke to is they’re getting killed in the American media,” Sanders said.

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“They just cannot compete. Reagan and his people are so sophisticated. They own the airwaves, of course — Reagan, the media. Every time Reagan gives them a photo opportunity, thousands — ‘Thank you, Mr. President! Thank you very much for telling us another lie.’”

Yes, because the media was incredibly friendly to the Reagan administration, particularly when it came to Nicaragua. Lest you thought Sanders had begun to reside in a dreamworld only of late, this tape is irrefutable proof he’s been living there since at least 1985.

“You know, the media, of course, is not allowed to ask sharp questions of the president,” Sanders added. “That is not allowed. And, you know, my point to Ortega is they are not getting their message of what they are trying to do out to the American people, and there’s, there’s just no question about that.”

Now, see if you can spot the hilarious misstep in the next segment from the interview. Let me just put it in bold for your convenience.

“You know, Ortega is the president of a country of three million people,” Sanders said. “There’s probably one television station. They have no sophistication. They have no knowledge as to when you call — you know, they call press conferences that the media can’t even use here in the United States because it’s the wrong time.”

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Yes, there was “probably one television station” in a country that had, at that point, been under the rule of a Marxist dictator for six years because of the fact that, well, they were just so goshdarn backwards. It certainly has nothing to do with iron-fisted control of the media or anything like that.

Well, Nicaragua has become less backwards in recent years and Ortega been in back in power since 2006 after losing a 1990 election. They have more than one television station and you’ll have no problem viewing Ortega’s news conferences, if just because the media is pretty much forced to carry them.

From a U.S. Department of State report in 2012: “President Ortega frequently used a law that allowed for government broadcasts of emergency messages to force national networks either to broadcast his speeches or to cease other programming temporarily during those times.

“The government continued to close opposition radio stations and cancel opposition television programs, allegedly for political reasons,” the report continues. “It also employed vandalism, the seizure of privately owned broadcast equipment, and criminal defamation charges against media outlet owners or program hosts to limit freedom and diversity of the press. Opposition news sources reported that generally they were not permitted to enter official government events and were denied interviews by government officials.”

And here’s a December 2018 headline from the U.K. Guardian (the official paper of 10 out of 10 Jeremy Corbyn supporters): “‘We’re going to kill you’: Nicaragua’s brutal crackdown on press freedom.”

Six days after that report, the Guardian also noted how one Human Rights Watch official said the situation in Nicaragua was, in some ways, actually worse than it was in Venezuela.

“This is a deliberate decision by Ortega to stay in power through brutal repression. There is no more facade of negotiation, or of a democratic regime … The policy being imposed … is zero tolerance to criticism,” José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch’s Americas director, said, adding that it was “something we haven’t even seen in Venezuela under Nicolás Maduro.”

“Since Thursday armed police have seized the headquarters of one of Nicaragua’s top independent media outlets, Confidencial, and its leading human rights group, CENIDH, in the latest phase of a crackdown designed to cement Ortega’s grip on power after months of protests,” the Guardian reported. “Pro-Ortega lawmakers last week stripped nine NGOs of their legal status, with the government claiming the groups had ‘actively participated’ in terrorist acts, hate crimes and a failed coup attempt against Ortega’s Sandinista regime.”

By the way, things weren’t a whole lot better the first time around, either:

A 1983 Heritage Foundation report claimed that, just two years before Comrade Sanders was giving advice to Ortega, the Sandinista regime had already taken thousands of political prisoners without due process, censored the only independent newspaper, arrested and confiscated the property of an untold numbers of Christians and Jews simply for their religious beliefs and killed jailed opponents by taking them to the countryside, telling them they were free and then shooting them as they were walking away, saying they were trying to “escape.”

And perhaps that last group were the lucky ones: “A particularly sadistic torture method used by Sandinistas is the ‘vest-cut,'” the report reads. “As an example of what happens to anti-government sympathizers, captured counter-revolutionaries are taken to the nearest village where their arms and legs are severed, causing them to bleed to death.”

But for Sanders, the Sandinistas had a PR problem.

“You know, there’s a whole science around this which they’re not aware of,” Sanders said in 1985. “They have contacts now with — they’ve hired a public relations firm in the United States, and they’re trying to improve it, but the main point is, I think, they have got to greatly improve their ability to communicate with the average American, and that’s what I said.”

Actually, I think the better way to go about it as far as Sanders and his fellow socialists are concerned would be to hope that the average American just remained mostly ignorant of the situation in Nicaragua, which is about where we are now.

Sanders’ behavior wasn’t much better when he was in the Soviet client state during the 1985 visit, where he blamed criticism of Nicaragua on American colonialism ‘n stuff:

But even though it was indeed a Soviet client state that brutally repressed its own people, don’t you dare call Ortega a communist, Marxist or undemocratic — or you were going to feel the Bern, 1985-style:

There were more fun clips of Bernie from the 1980s popping up all over social media these past few days. Here’s the infamous breadlines video:

“It’s funny sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is because people are lining up for food. That’s a good thing,” Sanders said. “In other countries, people don’t line up for food, rich people get the food and poor people starve to death.”

He didn’t just praise Soviet-style breadlines, either. Here’s a clip where he and his wife Jane discuss their visit to Mother Russia.

“Instead of compartmentalizing their lives into a job and hobbies, it’s all interrelated and all under the banner of community involvement,” Jane Sanders said. (Just don’t try and opt out of that “community involvement,” comrade.)

These clips are all over 30 years old, which is older than some of our readers (and, it sometimes seems, most of Bernie’s ardent supporters). Why dredge them up again?

The times may have changed, but Bernie hasn’t — and the thing is that he’s back in fashion again. If anything, that’s not in spite of how antediluvian his opinions really are, but because of it.

People forget what far-leftism wrought from the rise of Lenin to the fall of the Soviet Union. They either never heard leftists say, “No, that wasn’t real socialism — this time it’ll work!” or forgot how often they heard it. So now, when Bernie Sanders tells them that this time it’ll work, they believe him.

There are still plenty of reminders of how it won’t work, however. And while conservatives point most often to Venezuela as an object, we ought to look a little to the north and west at Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega is back in power and he may have more than one television station these days. Otherwise, the mess may be worse than it was before.

And, while Sanders’ effusive praise of the Sandinistas may not have the media resonance that the breadlines remark did, it should scare Americans even more.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture