President Donald Trump condemned the “dangers of socialism” Monday afternoon in a fiery speech denouncing the political and economic turmoil currently choking Venezuela.
Trump, whose administration opposes Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaido, spoke to hundreds of loyal supporters at Florida International University’s main campus in Miami at an invitation-only event organized by the White House.
Trump fired up the crowd Monday when he said socialism is on the way out.
“A new day is coming in Latin America, it’s coming,” Trump said. “The days of socialism and communism are numbered not only but in Venezuela but in Nicaragua and Cuba as well.”
Socialism has brought Venezuela in particular to the brink of ruin, Trump said.
“They shut down free markets, suppressed free speech, rigged elections and destroyed the impartial rule of law,” he said to loud applause. “The results have been catastrophic. Almost 90 percent of all Venezuelans now live in poverty. Socialism has so completely ravaged this great country that even the largest reserves of oil aren’t enough to keep the lights on.”
Trump has called Guaido “the real president” of Venezuela.
Guaido is recognized by the United States and 50 other nations as the interim president of Venezuela, where food shortages and one of the world’s highest inflation rates are fueling a mass exodus from the South American nation.
Supplies of food and medicine are stuck at the border because Maduro refuses to let it in. He claims the aid, sent from the United States and other countries at the request of Guaido, is illegal and not needed.
“Dictator Maduro would rather see his people starve than give them aid,” Trump said.
Guaido, president of the National Assembly, has called for a worldwide march on Feb. 23 that would pave the way for humanitarian aid to enter the country.
Trump warned Venezuela’s military leaders that they are “risking their future and their lives for a man controlled by the Cuban military and protected by a private army of Cuban soldiers. He is a Cuban puppet, that’s what he is.”
Trump urged Venezuela’s military to allow humanitarian supplies across the border on Feb. 23.
“The eyes of the entire world are upon you,” Trump said. “You cannot hide from the choice that now confronts you. We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open. Let your people go. Set your country free.”
Guaido spoke to Monday’s crowd from a giant video screen: “Now there is a debate between democracy and dictatorship — one between life and death. Today this fight is existential. We must take advantage of this opportunity. The moment is now for change in Venezuela. Many thanks to the state of Florida that has taken in so many Venezuelans and opened its door. Our thanks to President Trump and all Americans who are determined and decidedly supporting freedom. May God bless.”
Since 2014, an estimated 3 million people have fled Venezuela, or about 10 percent of the population, according to the United Nations. Nearly 200,000 live in Florida, with hundreds fleeing their homeland in the past few years alone.
Maduro, who has the backing of Russia, China and the Venezuelan military, is under increasing pressure to cede power to Guaido.
Juan Correa Villalonga, 30, fled Venezuela with his family at age 11, when former president Hugo Chavez was in power.
He now lives in Pembroke Pines but still keeps a close eye on his homeland.
“I liked that Trump said all options are on the table,” he said after the event. “That sends a strong message to them to leave peacefully.”
Earlier on Monday, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., spoke to the crowd in both English and Spanish, telling them: “Maduro’s time is up. It’s time for Venezuela to have free and fair elections.”
His speech was interrupted by loud cheers and chants of “USA! USA! USA!”
He spoke of what socialism had done to the oil-rich country.
“Nine of 10 households don’t have money to buy food,” he said. “That’s socialism. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world. That’s socialism. We must do everything in our power to lift up the people of Venezuela.”
U.S. Sen Marco Rubio, R-Fla., thanked President Trump for reminding the world that America is a beacon of freedom and liberty and blasted Maduro and his “dying criminal regime.”
“To the people of Venezuela, you are not alone,” Rubio said. “As long as you stand for freedom and liberty, we stand with you. God is with you, the world is with you and America is with you.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also addressed the crowd, promising them that Venezuela has powerful friends in the United States who will help the country get back on its feet.
While political leaders delivered their speeches Monday, activists protested outside, demanding that Congress immediately take action to overrule his declaration of a national emergency and rein in his hard-line stance on immigration.
Terrie Rizzo, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, says the Trump administration has denied almost half of the Venezuelan applicants looking for asylum in the U.S.
“President Trump is two-faced on the Venezuela issue,” Rizzo said. “He talks about fighting the Maduro regime, but his administration keeps deporting and detaining Venezuelans fleeing repression from the Maduro regime. The United States needs to grant a Temporary Protection Status to Venezuelans immediately.”
U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Miami, echoed that sentiment.
“The state of Florida is now the home of thousands of Venezuelans, many of them facing deportation to a country that is falling apart,” she said. “It is very important that a Temporary Protection Status be extended to them, I have challenged President Trump not to come to Florida without announcing the extension of TPS. It is very important that we protect Venezuelans in our community.”
Pence announced that Washington is working toward a “peaceful transition” in Venezuela that would allow Guaido to rise to power.
© 2019 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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