Trump In South Florida: ‘All Options Open’ In Venezuela

By By George Bennett, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

President Donald Trump ratcheted up pressure on leftist Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro on Monday, urging that country’s military to shift its loyalty to U.S.-recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido and allow humanitarian aid into the country — or face lasting consequences.

“We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open,” Trump said to loud cheers at a rally-style event in an area where many Venezuelan-Americans live. The president repeatedly denounced socialism and Maduro, as well as the leftist regimes in Cuba and Nicaragua, and drew sustained applause when he repeated his vow from the State of the Union address that “America will never be a socialist country.”

Trump’s remarks at Florida International University came after spending the morning at his Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach. After spending the long Presidents’ Day weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, he boarded the presidential Marine One helicopter at Mar-a-Lago’s helipad and flew to Miami for the speech.

The U.S. and more than 50 other nations have recognized Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’sNational Assembly, as the country’s interim president after the assembly called Maduro’s 2018 re-election illegitimate. With Venezuela’s socialist economy ravaged by hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages, Maduro has blocked international efforts to send humanitarian aid to Venezuela.

Venezuelan military leaders who have remained loyal to Maduro still have a chance to “help forge a safe and prosperous path for all of the people of Venezuela,” Trump said.

“Or you can choose the second path, continuing to support Maduro. If you choose this path, you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything … The eyes of the entire world are upon you, today, every day and every day in the future. You cannot hide from the choice that now confronts you,” Trump said.

Trump warned the military not to block humanitarian aid or threaten violence against peaceful protest, Maduro’s opponents or Guaido and his family.

While many of Trump’s remarks were aimed directly at the Venezuelan military, they carried domestic political import as well. Republicans have aggressively courted Venezuelan-American voters, who mainly live in the Miami area, with a message similar to the staunch anti-communism that has long bonded the GOP with Cuban exiles in Miami.

University of Florida Political Science Chairman Daniel Smith estimates that about 36,000 Venezuelan-born U.S. citizens are registered to vote in Florida. That’s a small sliver in a state with 13.4 million registered voters. But Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried won their statewide elections by smaller margins in November.

“We are here to proclaim a new day is coming in Latin America, Venezuela and across the western hemisphere. Socialism is dying and liberty, prosperity and democracy are being reborn,” Trump said with large American and Venezuelan flags hanging behind him. “The people of Venezuela are standing for freedom and democracy, and the United States of America is standing right by their side.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been influential in shaping Trump’s Latin American policies, joined Scott and DeSantis in hammering Maduro and socialism in remarks before the president arrived. Each was interrupted at times by chants of “Libertad!” and “U.S.A! U.S.A!”

“Maduro’s time is up!” Scott said to loud cheers. Blaming Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crises on socialism, Scott then turned his fire on Democrats in the United States.

“Socialism is unfortunately what many Democrats want to bring to our country,” Scott said. “They should take a fact-finding trip to Caracas. They should go down to Venezuela, they should look at the poverty, the depression, the human rights abuses and the death and destruction, then come back here to our country and apologize to the American people for promoting socialism in our country.”

Rubio was just back from Colombia, where he witnessed neighboring Venezuela’s efforts to block humanitarian aid. To those preventing aid from reaching Venezuelans, Rubio warned, “The world will be watching and it will hold them accountable.”

DeSantis also pledged solidarity with the Venezuelan people. But among the day’s many warnings aimed at Venezuela, the Florida governor delivered one to the U.S. if it falters in its support.

“All people now are looking at what happens here,” DeSantis said. “And if we don’t deliver, if we don’t stand with the people of Venezuela and their aspirations for freedom and democracy and free and fair elections, then that’s going to be a body blow to the cause of freedom, not just in Latin America but throughout the world … We can’t let that happen.”

The following are updates from Monday’s coverage:

3:22 p.m.

President Trump just broke in the controversial, new helipad at Mar-a-Lago this afternoon when Marine One whisked him to Miami, where he is expected to speak later this afternoon on political unrest in Venezuela.

Two identical helicopters lifted off from the back lawn, where the helipad is located. As a security measure, Marine One always flies in a group of as many as five identical helicopters. One helicopter carries the President, while the others serve as decoys. Upon take-off these helicopters shift in formation to obscure the location of the President.

The Town of Palm Beach does not allow helipads or helicopters, fearing the island could end up like other posh communities for the super-rich where helicopters buzz residents to and fro. However, shortly after Trump became president his attorneys asked for an exception.

Locals hoped the helipad would enable Trump to use Marine One to shuttle back and forth from Palm Beach International Airport — alleviating long traffic jams and road closures. But neighbors complained noise and down-draft from the massive Marine helicopters would disrupt their tranquility, trash their landscaping and be used by club members.

Ultimately, the town council relented — under the conditions that Trump only use the helipad for “official presidential business” and remove it as soon as he left office.

Trump raised eyebrows in December 2017, when, for over a week, a private helicopter bearing the Trump logo and name has sat on the helipad. When questioned by the Palm Beach Post, a White House spokesman said that neither the White House nor the Marines requested the helipad for presidential use or were involved in building it or paying for it.

The town council sent a letter to the town’s police chief, who sent a letter to the Trump Organization, asking for a meeting to clarify the definition of “official presidential business,” said town Mayor Gail Coniglio.

Trump recently asked the town council for permission to build a dock at Mar-a-Lago. The council refused.

11:42 a.m.

Here’s a look at what’s been going on and who has been at Mar-a-Lago this weekend from social media.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders squeezed in some beach time.

Prince Charles-Phillipe d’Orleans is a direct descendant of King Louis Phillipe I of France, the country’s last king. His wife, Dona Diana Álvares Pereira de Melo, is Princess of Orléans, 11th Duchess of Cadaval, Duchess of Anjou, more commonly known as Diana de Cadaval.

8:46 a.m.

Good morning. It’s sunny and 77 degrees at Mar-a-Lago with more perfect golf weather expected. The president has just arrived at Trump International Golf Club in suburban West Palm Beach after apparently watching Fox & Friends. In two tweets posted just after 8 a.m. the president credits the show with “great analysis,” then added his agreement with comments by political commentator Dan Bongino that he was the target of an “illegal coup attempt.”

“This was an illegal coup attempt on the President of the United States.” Dan Bongino on@foxandfriends True!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)February 18, 2019

The president and first lady Melania Trump are expected to travel to Miami this afternoon where he will speak at Florida International University about political unrest in Venezuela.

This article provided by NewsEdge.