It’s been all Venezuela, all day in Miami thus far on Presidents’ Day ahead of Trump's remarks at Florida International University, in a region where Venezuela politics have often become local politics in South Florida, given the nearly 40,000 registered voters in the state who've self-identified as being born in Venezuela.
Trump is expected to repeat calls for Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas Maduro to leave power, and looking ahead to 2020, he'll be appealing to both the tens of thousands of Venezuelan expatriates who could inch Republicans past Florida, as well as the generals in the Maduro government after popular protests and unrest within the country appears to have lost momentum, compared with the thus far loyal army's staying power.
According to a White House preview of Trump’s speech, the president will reaffirm US backing of opposition head and self-declared "Interim President" Juan Guaido while asserting “the current path toward democracy is irreversible.” He's also expected to warn the power military officers that back Maduro of severe consequences should they remain loyal to the end.
“Venezuelan military officials have a clear choice: work toward democracy for their future and the future of their families, or they will lose everything they have,” according to preview statements issued by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “The United States knows where military officials and their families have money hidden throughout the world.”
Meanwhile the venue of Florida International University is in the heart of the Venezuelan and Latin American immigrant community in South Florida, according to Bloomberg. Picking up on prior themes of the Trump presidency, he's expected to couple the anti-Maduro message with a condemnation of socialism: “We renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” Trump said recently, perhaps readying his re-election campaign message.
A number of expected re-election campaign threads will come together during the speech, as Bloomberg explains:
Trump’s speech in Miami will cap a Presidents Day holiday weekend spent at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach and his nearby golf club, in a swing state where the Hispanic vote, including Venezuelan expats, is a key bloc.
Democrats have also eyed the Hispanic vote in Florida, especially the state’s growing Puerto Rican population. Trump was heavily criticized for his administration’s response to 2017’s Hurricane Maria, and thousands of residents who fled the island after Maria now reside -- and can vote -- in Florida.
The Venezuelan-American vote may provide Republicans a counterweight given the economic and humanitarian crises under Maduro and Trump’s willingness to respond.
Over the weekend the US Treasury indicated it would “consider lifting sanctions” on those who take action and steps to “restore democratic order” in the country, aiming its message to state-run oil giant Petroleos de Venezuela SA. However it also put new sanctions on five Maduro associates, not the least of which is Venezuelan Oil Minister and PDVSA Chairman Manuel Quevedo.
The Treasury also echoed Trump's label on Caracas' leadership, calling Maduro the "illegitimate former president". This after outspoken Florida Republicans, Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, traveled to the Colombia-Venezuela border over the weekend as the first shipments of US military cargo aid arrived.
Upon returning to Florida from Cúcuta, Colombia as part of the lead-up to Trump's speech, Sen. Rubio said, “The only invasion that people have talked about around me is an invasion of food and medicine.”