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Pressed on socialism, Sanders distances himself from Venezuela's Maduro in Democratic debate

Pressed on his self-described democratic socialist platform during the third Democratic presidential debate in Houston on Thursday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders distanced himself from the repressive leftist government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Sanders argued that his own brand of socialism is starkly different from Maduro's. 

In a round of questioning centered on U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, veteran Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, who was briefly detained by the Venezuelan government earlier this year, asked Sanders about the differences between his leftist politics and those of the increasingly authoritarian socialist or communist regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Sanders smirked repeatedly as Ramos continued his interrogative questions, including one about whether he considered Maduro a dictator. "Let me be very clear: Anybody who does what Maduro does is a vicious tyrant," Sanders replied.

Election 2020 Debate
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, answers a question Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. AP

The Vermont Independent said he would back an international campaign to help organize free elections in Venezuela so its citizens can determine which direction to take the country in as it reels from a prolonged economic and political crisis. He pushed back on the notion that his policies are similar to those touted by Maduro, who has managed to remain in power despite his country's precipitous economic collapse and a concerted campaign of sanctions and political pressure from the U.S. and dozens of other countries. 

"To equate what goes on in Venezuela to what I believe is extremely unfair," Sanders countered.

He said his views are more aligned with policies instituted by progressive governments in Canada and Scandinavia such as single-payer health care systems, guaranteed paid medical leave from work and higher minimum wage standards. 

Sanders also stressed that for him, democratic socialism is defined by a commitment to address wealth inequality and curb the concentration of power — issues he said are ignored by both Congress and the press. 

"You've got a handful of billionaires controlling what goes on in Wall Street, the insurance companies and in the media," he said. "Maybe what we should be doing is creating an economy that works for all us, not just one percent."

"That's my understanding of democratic socialism," Sanders added, finishing his remarks.  

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