Political News

Trump ramps up pressure on Venezuela's Maduro in speech

Posted February 18, 2019 1:52 p.m. EST
Updated February 18, 2019 5:06 p.m. EST

— President Donald Trump is expected to urge Venezuelan military officials to back the country's self-declared interim president Juan Guaido and allow humanitarian aid to flow into Venezuela.

Trump's latest appeal will come during a speech Monday in Miami where Trump will seek to ramp up the public pressure on the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, following a series of US-led sanctions and diplomatic maneuvers aimed at ousting Maduro.

The US and dozens of other countries last month recognized Guaido, the president of Venezuela's National Assembly, as the country's legitimate interim president as the toll of Venezuela's political, economic and humanitarian crisis mounted.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump will reiterate his "strong support" for Guaido and make clear that Venezuela's "current path toward democracy is irreversible."

"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," Sanders said, listing several key points of Trump's forthcoming speech on Monday at Florida International University.

The US leveled its most significant financial sanctions against Venezuela late last month, targeting the country's state-owned oil company in a bid to tighten the vise around Maduro's regime. But Maduro has so far offered no indication that he intends to resign.

Trump's appeal to Venezuelan military officers is also likely to come with a warning.

"The United States knows where military officials and their families have money hidden throughout the world," Sanders said in her preview of Trump's speech.

Trump will also look to frame the situation in Venezuela in broader terms, arguing that a transition to democracy in Venezuela "will help promote democracy in Nicaragua and Cuba," Sanders said, calling it a "pathway for the first fully democratic hemisphere in human history."

John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, indicated to reporters on Friday that many senior Venezuelan military officials have been "negotiating with the opposition."

"I wouldn't be surprised if we see in the next weeks senior military officials declare for Guaido or leave the country," he said.

Ahead of Trump's speech on Monday, Bolton maintained that the US is "happy to talk to Maduro or anybody in his former regime to discuss their exit terms from Venezuela."

While he said the US is keeping all options on the table, Bolton added there would be "no effort to use military force to deliver the humanitarian assistance" that the Venezuelan government has refused to allow into the country.

Trump has also previously seized on the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as a political attack line, warning voters in hyperbolic terms that Democratic policies will turn the US into Venezuela.

"The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America's economy after Venezuela," Trump claimed in a USA Today op-ed ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

It is not clear whether Trump will also hit those domestic political notes in his Monday speech.