Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently told “60 Minutes” it would be “unfair” to say “everything is bad” about Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the Communist revolution he staged during the 1950s. Even fellow Democrats could not believe their ears. Sanders went so far as to describe Castro as a man of accomplishment, noting how Castro started a “massive literacy program” for the people of Cuba. Sure he did, right after he wiped out thousands of his political opponents, created forced labor camps, seized the property of all dissidents, and imposed country-wide religious repression. Sanders sounds like the defenders of Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, who praised Mussolini for making the trains run on time and draining the malarial swamps around Rome.
Bernie conveniently ignores how the brutality of Castro’s government forced millions of Cubans to flee their homeland, leaving behind all their possessions. And let’s be clear, Sanders’ commentary was not a mistake. Even the New York Times notes how Bernie has a long history of lauding Castro’s government, expressing “…praise not only for Mr. Castro in Cuba but also support for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Sanders’ remarks likely cost him the recent Florida Democratic primary given the widespread opposition to communism and socialism within the Latino community.
The sad reality is that Bernie Sanders honestly believes Cuba’s model of government should be replicated all over the world. This process is happening in Venezuela, where another brutal dictator, Nicolas Maduro, with the backing of Cuban security forces, is destroying the nation he is supposed to represent.
The situation in Venezuela is tragic. The country has experienced near-total economic and social collapse under Maduro’s corrupt regime. President Trump is correctly acting to oust Maduro by imposing harsh economic sanctions against Maduro’s government and the Russian and Cuban businesses helping him. The tough sanctions are placing massive pressure on Maduro, and the president should stay the course.
But the Trump administration should take care not to eliminate America’s presence in Venezuela as part of a strategy to drive Maduro from power. America has maintained a century-long relationship with Venezuela — specifically with Venezuela’s energy industry. Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil fields, and it’s imperative that Russia, China and Cuba are not allowed to gain unconstrained access to these oil fields. If American companies remain in the country, they will be able to help the next democratic Venezuelan government rebuild quickly.
Some of President Trump’s advisors believe it might be a good idea to force American companies to exit Venezuela and further tighten the economic screws on Maduro. But if American companies leave Venezuela, it will likely make it harder for the Trump Administration to remove Maduro and his criminal regime from power. An American exit would only empower Maduro and strengthen Russia, and Cuba’s hold on the country.
We certainly don’t want Venezuela to become another Cuba, but this could happen if America withdraws completely. If American companies leave, it will remove the last barriers to a complete Communist takeover by Cuba, financed by Russia, drug cartels and other criminals.
President Trump has wisely imposed crippling sanctions against Venezuela’s Maduro and the international actors that support him. The Trump team should let this process play out while preserving America’s Venezuelan presence for the future.
Sanders’ flippant remarks are a sharp contrast with President Trump’s tough but fair approach to Venezuela. Hopefully, America will continue to stand strong against Maduro while keeping the door open for a future relationship with a democratic Venezuela.