Bernie Sanders on Latin America

Bernie Sanders believes the United States should not involve itself in the governments of other countries, even if officials in charge do not agree with the other countries’ left-leaning principles. He also believes that free-trade agreements harm the U.S. working class and that the U.S. can provide and receive aid from countries in Latin America.

Nicaragua and the Sandinistas

The United States should not have funded the Contras against the Sandinistas.

Bernie believed that President Ronald Reagan should not have funded the Contras against the government of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

What happened in Nicaragua?

During the 1980s, the Cuban-backed Sandinistas were battling with the Contras, insurgents who Reagan described as “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers“. Ronald Reagan supported providing the Contras aid, but he faced substantial pushback in 1982 when the congressional elections brought in a Democratic majority. In 1984, Congress passed the Boland Amendment, stating that the U.S. government could not give military aid, specifically to Nicaragua. The agreement put a cap of $24 million on the amount of money the U.S. government could provide them, halting plans to provide them additional aid.

In April 1985, President Ronald Reagan unveiled a “peace plan“, which would provide money to the Contras for 60 days. However, Reagan declared that no matter what happens, “We’re not going to quit and walk away” from the Contras, implying that the U.S. would continue supporting the Contras in their war if peace was not achieved in those 60 days.

Why did Bernie get involved in South America?

In an interview, Bernie revealed that he had always been interested in the problems in Latin America due to his reading about the region in high school and college. He had been upset with the United States’ policy of removing governments they didn’t like through military and armed means, and the fact that many of these interventions benefited major corporations.

Bernie formally protested the Reagan involvement in the Contra and Sandinista government feud. He visited Nicaragua in the summer of 1985 to condemn the war on the people there and came back very influenced by their health care, education, and land reform. He became the highest ranking official to visit Nicaragua at the time.

What was Bernie’s view on the Sandinistas?

Bernie was “impressed” by the “intelligence and sincerity” of the Sandinista leaders. He explained that “you do not fight, and lose your family, and get tortured, to go to jail for years to be a hack.”

Bernie pointed out that a higher percentage of people voted for the Sandinistas than the percentage of Americans who voted for President Reagan. Relatedly, just because people may not have voted for the Sandinistas did not, in his opinion, mean that they “wanted an invasion”. Bernie felt that many people in Nicaragua liked the Sandinistas and that “just because Ronald Reagan dislikes these people, doesn’t mean that people in their own nations feel this way.”

Learn more about where Bernie stands on foreign policy issues.


The United States should not have passed NAFTA.

Bernie believed that the NAFTA, which went into effect in 1994, would eliminate jobs in the United States and would only benefit the most influential people in those countries.

What is NAFTA?

The North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a trilateral trade agreement between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. NAFTA set up 900 pages of a one-size-fits-all rulebook, a radical change in the previous way embargos and other trade agreements had been set up. It was signed into law in 1993 and went into effect the following year.

Why were some people for NAFTA?

Many of the largest corporations were for NAFTA, promising that it would “create hundreds of thousands of new high-wage U.S. jobs, raise living standards in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, improve environmental conditions, and transform Mexico from a poor developing country into a booming new market for U.S. exports.”

Why were others against NAFTA?

Many labor, environmental, consumer and religious groups pushed back against NAFTA, arguing that it would create a “push-to-the-bottom in wages, destroy hundreds of thousands of good U.S. jobs, undermine democratic control of domestic policy-making, and threaten health, environmental, and food safety standards.”

What did Bernie say about NAFTA?

Bernie spoke against NAFTA, saying that this fast track agreement with Mexico “will be a disaster for our working people, for our farmers, and for the environment in general.” In 1993, Bernie stated that in his view, “NAFTA will accelerate all of these negative economic trends, and will only benefit the ruling elites of the United States, Mexico, and Canada.”

Bernie speaking against NAFTA in 1993

Hilariously, Bernie put his fellow Representatives on the spot before the NAFTA vote by introducing a bill that if NAFTA were to pass, the members of the House would have to lower their wages to be competitive with politicians in Mexico. Here he is introducing the bill:

What were the results of NAFTA?

In 2011, Bernie shared how before NAFTA was passed, a minority leader had claimed that “American firms will not move to Mexico just for lower wages.” Bernie then showed that in the ten years after passing NAFTA, Mattel, Lexmark International, Texas Instruments, General Electric, Tyco Electronics, and Levi Strauss laid off a total of 3,176 employees in Kentucky and shifted their production to Mexico.

Recent studies have shown that because of NAFTA, Americans have lost over 680,000 jobs. A senior economist at EPI described the disastrous results from NAFTA: “The growing U.S. trade deficit with Mexico has displaced a large number of jobs in the United States and is a significant contributor to the current crisis in U.S. manufacturing, which lost 5.6 million jobs between February 2000 and February 2011.

Learn more about the effects of NAFTA and other free-trade agreements on workers’ rights.

Venezuela and Vermont Deal

Bernie worked diplomatically with Venezuela to provide low-income Vermonters with discounted heating oil.

Bernie worked with Venezuela, Rep. Joe Kennedy, Citgo, and the non-profit Citizens Energy Corp., successfully brokering a deal to sell discounted heating oil to low-income families.

What was the deal?

In 2006, Venezuela and Vermont struck a deal that would supply heating oil to low-income Vermont residents at a 40 percent discount, with an additional 108,000 gallons going to homeless shelters for free.

Why did Bernie initiate this deal?

In 2006, many Vermont residents were struggling to pay for high-priced home heating oil. An AP article quoted Bernie saying, “At a time when many Vermont households are struggling economically, the significant increase in home heating oil prices is causing many families to make painful choices.” He promised that the program would, “to some degree, make those choices,” between health care, fixing the car, buying medicines or adequate heating, “a little bit easier.” Bernie was excited about the “much-needed relief to thousands of senior citizens and low-income families” that the program provided.

Why was this deal controversial?

Since President George W. Bush and Hugo Chavez were not on good terms, critics believed that Chavez was using this cheap oil deal to “one-up” President Bush. Critics also believed that this oil deal was a way to distract U.S. citizens from other rising oil prices at the time.

People complained about getting cheaper oil?

Yes, even though it generated good will between the United States and Venezuela at a time when relations had been strained since the Bush administration had been accused of supporting a failed coup against Chavez in 2002. The Venezuelan Ambassador said that the deal demonstrated Chavez’s diplomatic and business cooperation with the United States, reflected previously through his connections to Cuba and South American countries.

Learn more about where Bernie’s stands on Cuba.