Sanders Refuses to Call For Maduro to Step Down, Won’t Say Explicitly If He Is a Dictator

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) refused during an interview this week to call on Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro to step down and would not explicitly say whether he considered Maduro a dictator.

Univision's Jorge Ramos asked the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate on Tuesday whether he considers National Assembly president Juan Guaido the legitimate president of Venezuela.

"No. I think what has to happen right now—I think there are serious questions about the recent election. There are many people who feel it was a fraudulent election, and I think the United States has got to work with the international community to make sure that there is a free and fair election in Venezuela," Sanders responded.

Ramos followed by asking whether Sanders thinks Maduro is a dictator and if he should step down.

"I think clearly he has been very, very abusive. That is a decision of the Venezuelan people, so I think, Jorge, there's got to be a free and fair election," Sanders said.

Venezuela's constitutional crisis stems from disputed elections that took place last year. Maduro was sworn in for a second term, but Guaido declared himself the rightful leader since the country's constitution permits him to assume temporary power when the president is deemed illegitimate.

The United States, most of Latin America, and the European Union recognize Guaido as interim president, while Russia, China, and Cuba back Maduro.

The United States has targeted Venezuela's state-owned oil company with sanctions, and earlier this week President Donald Trump called on the country's military officials to support Guaido.

A Slate piece published Wednesday argued that Sanders has a "soft spot for Latin American strongmen":

In the ’80s, Sanders traveled to Nicaragua. Upon his return, he repeatedly defended the Sandinistas and their leader, Daniel Ortega…. Sanders’ enthusiasm for both Ortega and the Castro regime in Cuba came back to haunt him during the 2016 presidential campaign. Three years ago, during a primary debate against Hillary Clinton hosted by Univision and the Washington Post in Miami, Sanders was shown a video shot in 1985 while he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in which he spoke about Nicaragua and enthusiastically described how Fidel Castro had "totally transformed" Cuban society, providing education and health care. After Univision anchor María Elena Salinas followed up, Sanders acknowledged Cuba as an "authoritarian, undemocratic country" but then proceeded to praise the Castro regime, again, for its "advances in health care" (a dubious claim at best).