At the end of last night’s Democratic debate in Miami, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders spent about eight minutes talking about Latin America—particularly U.S.-Cuba relations, Puerto Rico’s debt crisis and U.S. policy in Latin America. Here is a transcript of that segment:
JORGE RAMOS: If you were president, would you meet with the dissidents in Cuba? Would you meet with Fidel Castro? And would you consider Raul Castro a president or a dictator? Welcome to Miami.
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, I supported the president’s moves. I helped to implement some of them leading up to the announcements when I was secretary of state, expanding travel opportunities, remittances. And I certainly told the president toward the end of my time that I hoped he would be able to move toward diplomatic relations and to make more of an impact by building up the relationship.
CLINTON: And there are no better ambassadors for freedom, democracy and economic opportunity than Cuban Americans.
So the more that we can have that kind of movement back and forth, the more likely we are to be able to move Cuba toward greater freedom, greater respect for rights.
You know, I’m looking forward to following the president’s trip. I do think meeting with dissidents, meeting with people who have been voices, tribunes of freedom and opportunity is important.
The Cuban people deserve to have their human rights respected and upheld, they deserve to be able to move towards democracy where they pick their own leads. And I think both Castros have to be considered authoritarian and dictatorial because they are not freely chosen by the people that are in Cuba.
I hope someday there will be leaders who are chosen by the Cuban people, and I hope that democracy will be deeply rooted in Cuban soil and that the people of Cuba will have every opportunity to fulfill their own dreams in their own country. That is my hope.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Senator Sanders…
RAMOS: On Facebook, by the way, this is the conversation that everybody is having, talking about Cuba. Senator Sanders.
BERNIE SANDERS: Look, I understand that not everybody in Florida or in the United States will agree with me, but I think we have got to end the embargo.
I believe that we should move towards full and normalized political relations with Cuba. I think at the end of the day, it will be a good thing for the Cuban people. It will enable them, I think when they see people coming into their country from the United States, move in a more democratic direction, which is what I want to see. So right — I’m sorry.
SALINAS: Let’s continue with another question, Senator, if you don’t mind.
SANDERS: Sure. SALINAS: In 1985, you praised the Sandinista government and you said that Daniel Ortega was an impressive guy. This is what you said about Fidel Castro. Let’s listen.
SANDERS: You may recall way back in, when was it, 1961, they invaded Cuba, and everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world. All the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed their society.
SALINAS: In South Florida there are still open wounds among some exiles regarding socialism and communism. So please explain what is the difference between the socialism that you profess and the socialism in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.
SANDERS: Well, let me just answer that. What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to try to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that the United States was wrong trying to overthrow in 1954, the government — democratically elected government of Guatemala.
Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America we’ve operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine, and that said the United States had the right do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America. So I actually went to Nicaragua and I very shortly opposed the Reagan administration’s efforts to overthrow that government. And I strongly opposed earlier Henry Kissinger and the — to overthrow the government of Salvador Aliende (ph) in Chile.
I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get involved in regime change. And all of these actions, by the way, in Latin America, brought forth a lot of very strong anti-American sentiments. That’s what that was about.
SALINAS: Senator, in retrospect, have you ever regretted the characterizations that you made of Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro that way?
SANDERS: I’m sorry. Please say that…
SALINAS: In retrospect, have you ever regretted the characterizations of Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro that you made in 1985?
SANDERS: The key issue here was whether the United States should go around overthrowing small Latin American countries. I think that that was a mistake…
SALINAS: You didn’t answer the question.
SANDERS: …both in Nicaragua and Cuba. Look, let’s look at the facts here. Cuba is, of course, an authoritarian undemocratic country, and I hope very much as soon as possible it becomes a democratic country. But on the other hand…
…on the other hands, it would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in health care. They are sending doctors all over the world. They have made some progress in education. I think by restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba, it will result in significant improvements to the lives of Cubans and it will help the United States and our business community invest.
SALINAS: Thank you, Senator. Your time is up on that.
RAMOS: Secretary, I have a question on Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is bankrupt. It owes more than $70 billion it cannot pay and we have a question from Facebook. Lian Purvea (ph) is asking you the following; I would like to know if during the first 100 days of your presidency, you will help Puerto Rico restructure its public debt and help its economy. The first 100 days, secretary.
CLINTON: Absolutely, although it happens before I am president if I am so fortunate to be. I have been calling for months that the Congress must give authority to Puerto Rico to restructure its debts.
CLINTON: Just like it has enabled states and cities to restructure their debt. And it’s a grave injustice for the Congress, led by the Republicans to be refusing to enact that opportunity within the bankruptcy law.
And what we see in Puerto Rico now is a lot of suffering. We see schools being closed, we see health care being denied and we see a thousand Puerto Rican families a month moving to the United States, mostly to Florida.
Puerto Ricans are citizens of America.
CLINTON: They deserve to be treated as citizens and to be given the opportunity to get back on their feet economically. And I just want to add one thing to the question you were asking Senator Sanders. I think in that same interview, he praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves.
I just couldn’t disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.
SANDERS: Well, as I said earlier, I don’t believe it is the business of the United States government to be overthrowing small countries around the world. And number two, when you get to Puerto Rico, there’s an issue that we have not talked about. That little island is $73 billion in debt and the government now is paying interest rates of up to 11 percent.
And many of the bonds that they are paying off were purchased by vulture capitalists for 30 cents on the dollar. And what I have said in talking to the leaders of Puerto Rico, we’ve got to bring people together. And it’s not the people of Puerto Rico, or the children or the schools.But maybe some of these vulture capitalists who are going to have to lose a little bit of money in this process.