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Why Bernie Sanders praises Greek 'no' vote

Creditors wanted Greece to cut spending further before granting the country new loans. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras argued against such measures.

Charlie Neibergall/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to the media before walking in a Fourth of July parade Saturday in Waukee, Iowa. Sanders released a statement Sunday expressing support for the Greek voters who rejected austerity measures its creditors demanded.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders praised the Greek people for voting down austerity measures that would lead to new loans for the country in crisis.

Sen. Sanders (I) of Vermont said in a statement that the spending cuts European creditors wanted Greece to make would do more harm than good, becoming the first presidential candidate to weigh in on the issue, according to the Huffington Post.

“I applaud the people of Greece for saying ‘no' to more austerity for the the poor, the children, the sick and the elderly,” Sanders said. “In a world of massive wealth and income inequality Europe must support Greece's efforts to build an economy which creates more jobs and income, not more unemployment and suffering."

He also recently told the Huffington Post, “the pensions of the people in Greece should not be cut even further to pay back some of the largest banks and wealthiest financiers in the world” – a view consistent with his own identification as a Democratic socialist and his popularity with progressive voters.

The Greek referendum follows the country’s default on a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and request for new loans from Eurozone countries to help repay debts. Without these loans, talk of reintroducing the drachma has circulated, since euros will no longer be available.

Despite the dire situation, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras encouraged Greek citizens to vote against austerity measures in exchange for loans, saying it would give him greater political leverage. Other European countries, however, have said they would interpret a “no” vote as an indication of a “Grexit” from the Eurozone.

Sanders has called on the United States to use its influence in the IMF to convince the organization and other creditors to ease up on Greece, the Huffington Post reported. In February, President Barack Obama expressed similar views, saying growth must become a priority.

"You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression," he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. "At some point, there has to be a growth strategy in order for them to pay off their debts to eliminate some of their deficits."

In 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed US support for Greek austerity measures, comparing it to “chemotherapy” – painful and difficult at the time, but necessary for eventual recovery.

Now, with GDP down, unemployment at 25 percent, and government employees expected to receive IOUs at the end of this pay period, critics such as Sanders have called the policies an “abysmal failure.”

Sanders warned that economic distress caused by austerity creates instability that can undermine democracy, contributing to the rise of Nazism in Germany following World War I.

“Let us not forget, after World War I, the Allies imposed oppressive austerity on Germany as part of the Versailles Treaty,” Sanders told the Huffington Post. “As a result, unemployment skyrocketed, the people suffered, and the policies of austerity gave rise to the Nazi Party. We cannot let a situation like that ever happen again.”

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