In July 1985, Bernie Sanders traveled to Nicaragua, where he attended an event that one wire report dubbed an “anti-U.S. rally.”
The leftist Sandinista government was celebrating the sixth anniversary of the revolution that saw it take power from an American-backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Sanders was in a crowd estimated at a half million people, many of whom were clad in the Sandinistas’ trademark red-and-black colors and chanting “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die.”
Onstage, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused the U.S. government of “state terrorism” for supporting the rebels who were seeking to overthrow him. The Sandinistas and the CIA-backed Contras would fight into the next decade, with allegations of human rights abuses on both sides. At the 1985 rally Sanders attended, Ortega vowed the Sandinistas would “defend the revolution with guns in hand.”
Sanders was being hosted by the Sandinistas as part of a delegation of American “solidarity groups.” He told reporters their decision to show “support” for the Nicaraguan government was “patriotic.”
“We want to show support for a small country trying to be independent, and we want to tell the truth to the American people when we return,” Sanders said.
Sanders was in the midst of a revolution of his own. Four years earlier, in 1981, he won a shocking victory by only 10 votes to become mayor of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington. Sanders was elected on a socialist platform and led a mayoral administration that he boasted was “more radical” than any other in the country.