AP NEWS

Trump calls on military to turn on Maduro, decries socialism

February 18, 2019

President Trump told Venezuela’s military leaders Monday to turn on President Nicolas Maduro, saying the country’s march toward change is inevitable and that “all options are open” if the oppressive regime’s allies stand pat.

Speaking in Miami, Mr. Trump said the generals will lose everything unless they reject Mr. Maduro and back National Assembly leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president with the support of the U.S. and other nations.

“The eyes of the entire world are upon you today, every day and every day in the future,” Mr. Trump told members of the Venezuelan community at Florida International University, about 80 miles south of his Mar-a-Lago estate. “You cannot hide from the choice that now confronts you.”

His remarks were ostensibly aimed at South American military leaders whose cooperation is desperately needed to oust Mr. Maduro and to usher in tons of food and medical aid that’s stuck at the Colombian border.

Yet Mr. Trump was also appealing to thousands of Venezuelan exiles who chafe at Mr. Maduro’s socialist policies and now reside in Florida, a critical swing state. Their presence in the state has ballooned over the past five years, reaching an estimated 36,000 registered voters, according to one Bloomberg report.

“They are seen by Republicans as sort of the next Cubans in terms of support,” said Susan MacManus, a politics professor emerita at the University of South Florida.

Reaching those voters aligns perfectly with Mr. Trump’s favorite talking point heading into the 2020 race.

He is characterizing newly empowered Democrats and his electoral rivals as “socialists” hellbent on allowing the government to impose mandates on everything from health care to air and car travel, as progressives stake out an aggressive position on fighting climate change.

Striking on common themes of his administration, Mr. Trump said socialism doesn’t respect boundaries or sovereignty.

“It’s always seeking to expand, to encroach and to subjugate others to its will,” Mr. Trump said, later adding: “America will never be a socialist country.”

First lady Melania Trump, who was born in the former Yugoslavia, opened the event by finding common ground with those who landed in the U.S. after living “under the oppression of socialism and communism.”

Mr. Trump wasn’t subtle in decrying socialism as the root of all problems in Venezuela. He thanked exiles who bear witness “to the horrors of socialism and communism.”

“A new day is coming in Latin America,” Mr. Trump said. “Socialism is dying, and liberty, prosperity and democracy are being reborn.”

He cross-referenced Venezuelans with other potential GOP voting blocs, saying Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is his go-to guy when he talks about Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua. He named-checked all three countries in a row at one point, drawing cheers.

Mr. DeSantis, Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, all Republicans, attended the speech.

Mr. Guaido, meanwhile, addressed the crowd in Spanish by video feed, saying: “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.”