Demo­cratic hope­fuls should re­ject Bernie San­ders’ view of Latin Amer­ica

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION - ANDRES OPPENHEIME­R

When twenty Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls meet in Mi­ami for their first de­bates on June 26-27, they should keep a dis­tance from Sen. Bernie San­ders’ ab­surd fas­ci­na­tion with Latin Amer­i­can left­ist dic­ta­tors and pop­ulist dem­a­gogues.

If they don’t, they’ll lose Florida, and may lose the 2020 elec­tions.

Florida is once again shap­ing up as a key swing state for next year’s elec­tions. It may be no co­in­ci­dence that Pres­i­dent Trump is re­port­edly plan­ning a visit to Mi­ami on June 18, hours be­fore kick­ing off his re­elec­tion cam­paign at a rally in Or­lando. Nor is it a co­in­ci­dence that the Democrats are hold­ing their first na­tional de­bates in Mi­ami.

Most likely, be­cause of South Florida’s large His­panic pop­u­la­tion, Venezuela, Cuba and Mex­ico will come up dur­ing the de­bates. And most likely, San­ders — who is No. 2 in the polls be­hind for­mer vice-pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den among Demo­cratic

hope­fuls — may once again show a soft spot for Latin Amer­ica’s left­ist pop­ulist lead­ers.

On June 12, San­ders tweeted a state­ment in sup­port for for­mer Brazil­ian pres­i­dent Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva, who is jail on corruption charges. Lula’s sup­port­ers are ask­ing that he be freed fol­low­ing leaked mes­sages between a judge and pros­e­cu­tors which they say tainted the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

”I stand with po­lit­i­cal and so­cial lead­ers across the globe who are calling on Brazil’s ju­di­ciary to re­lease Lula and an­nul his con­vic­tion,” San­ders tweeted.

But, per­haps un­be­knownst to San­ders, it was dur­ing Lula’s 20032011 pres­i­dency that Brazil suf­fered its big­gest corruption scan­dal in his­tory. Brazil’s gi­ant Ode­brecht con­struc­tion com­pany paid at least $349 mil­lion in bribes to Brazil­ian of­fi­cials between 2003 and 2016, much of it to top of­fi­cials of Lula’s Work­ers’ Party.

San­ders’ sup­port for Lula is just the lat­est ex­am­ple of the Demo­cratic hope­ful’s naive ro­man­ti­cism — and ignorance — about Latin Amer­ica. He is stuck in the 1960’s. His right­ful crit­i­cism of U.S. in­ter­ven­tions in Cen­tral Amer­ica in the mid-20th Cen­tury — at the time when he was a stu­dent — seems to drive him to automatica­lly side with most an­tiAmer­i­can pres­i­dents in the re­gion, no mat­ter how ruth­less or cor­rupt they are.

In a Feb. 22 in­ter­view with Univi­sion’s Jorge Rar­mos, San­ders typ­i­cally de­flected a ques­tion on whether Venezue­lan pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro is a dic­ta­tor. Ear­lier, in Jan­uary, when the United States and most Latin Amer­i­can democ­ra­cies rec­og­nized Venezue­lan Na­tional As­sem­bly pres­i­dent Juan Guaidó as his coun­try’s in­terim pres­i­dent, San­ders re­fused to back Guaidó.

San­ders’ re­fusal to call Maduro a dic­ta­tor goes against the stand of most Latin Amer­i­can and Eu­ro­pean lead­ers, in­clud­ing the left-of-cen­ter pres­i­dents of France and Spain, who also re­ject a U.S. in­ter­ven­tion in Venezuela.

Maduro re-elected him­self last year af­ter ban­ning Venezuela’s top op­po­si­tion can­di­dates from run­ning, and rig­ging the vote after­wards.

San­ders has also been close in the past with Nicaraguan dic­ta­tor Daniel Or­tega, who ac­cord­ing to hu­man rights groups is re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of more than 300 op­po­si­tion demon­stra­tors last year.

San­ders at­tended a 1985 San­din­ista rally in Managua, Nicaragua, on oc­ca­sion of the 6th an­niver­sary of the San­din­ista rev­o­lu­tion, in which the crowd chanted “Aquí, allá, el Yan­qui morirá” (Here and there, the Yan­kee will die,) ac­cord­ing to a May 17 New York Times story.

San­ders was mayor of Burling­ton, Vt., at the time, and met with Or­tega dur­ing that trip, the ar­ti­cle said.

Not sur­pris­ingly, I re­cently heard a late night tv co­me­dian quip­ping in ref­er­ence to a trip by San­ders and his new­ly­wed wife to the for­mer Soviet Union in 1998 - that “San­ders spent his hon­ey­moon in the Soviet Union, and has never come back.”

For many Amer­i­cans else­where in the coun­try, all of this may sound triv­ial. But in Florida, the home to hun­dreds of thou­sands of ex­iles from var­i­ous Latin Amer­i­can dic­ta­tor­ships, it’s a se­ri­ous mat­ter.

Un­less other Demo­cratic hope­fuls pub­licly ridicule San­ders’ for­eign pol­icy views, they will be help­ing hand over Florida to Trump, and will help re-elect the most un­hinged pres­i­dent in re­cent U.S. his­tory.

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