Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., doubled down on his remarks praising former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro during a televised town hall on Monday night after he raised eyebrows for complimenting the brutal leader's education reforms.
"When Fidel Castro first came into power ... you know what he did? He initiated a major literacy program. It was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate and he formed the Literacy Brigade ... and they went out and they helped people learn to read and write You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing," Sanders said in response to criticism.
He continued, "I have been extremely consistent and critical of all authoritarian regimes all over the world including Cuba, including Nicaragua, including Saudi Arabia, including China, including Russia. I happen to believe in democracy, not authoritarianism. ... China is an authoritarian country ... but can anyone deny, I mean the facts are clear, that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history. Why you criticize when I say that -- that's the truth. So that is the fact. End of discussion."
When CNN anchor Chris Cuomo echoed critics who said you don't give Castro a "pat on the back for anything," Sanders pushed back, saying "truth is truth," which was welcomed by applause from the South Carolina audience.
Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, was criticized for remarks he said during a "60 Minutes" interview over the weekend.
"We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba," Sanders said, "but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. 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?"
Several Democratic lawmakers, many of them who represent Cuban-Americans in Florida, blasted Sanders for his remarks.