Venezuelan-Americans waved flags of yellow, blue and red as President Donald Trump took the stage at Florida International University’s Ocean Bank Arena. The crowd of about 200 loudly chanted “U.S.A.” as he walked towards the microphone. Amid mounting pressure in Nicolás Maduro’s regime from opposition leader Juan Guaidó, Trump took the time to address the United States’ decision to back the political rebel.
Maduro has governed as president of Venezuela under the Socialist Party since the death of President Hugo Chavez in 2013. Under Maduro’s rule (and notably before it, as well), citizens of Venezuela have experienced inordinate levels of poverty, oppression and violence. President Trump proudly announced that the U.S. was the first country to recognize Popular Will Party member Guaidó as the rightful president of Venezuela.
Junior Micaela Stoner, a finance and real estate double major and president of UM College Republicans, approved of Trump’s stance against socialism “and the dangers it presents to the many nations who have implemented it, especially Venezuela.” she said. “Trump is honest about the effects of the government in Venezuela and does not try to sugar coat the situation.”
“The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere,” Trump said.
The president spoke at FIU Monday, Feb. 18. Sweetwater, the location of FIU’s main campus, is home to the largest population of Venezuelans in the United States. In the crowd, attendees sporting “Make America Great Again” hats were nearly equal in number to those donning Venezuelan garb.
Gelys Chacin, faculty advisor for the University of Miami’s Union Venezolana (UNIVEN), said FIU was an ideal location for the president to give his speech since the university “has opened its doors to many of those suffering from dictatorships in their home country.”
FIU served as an attractive location for President Trump’s speech because “he knew how important the audience was for the future of his political career and his party,” Chacin said.
Senator Rick Scott gave the event’s opening remarks, followed by Senator Marco Rubio, Governor Ron DeSantis and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton. First Lady Melania Trump introduced the president to his audience.
Scott, Rubio, DeSantis and Bolton all shared a similar message with the crowd: Maduro’s rule must come to an end and the U.S. will provide the people of Venezuela with support in this time of need.
“So long as you stand for freedom and liberty, you are not alone,” Rubio said.
Trump’s address did not only target the immediate audience in the room but also extended to every citizen of Venezuela. He commemorated the efforts of protesters who have borne witness to the country’s corruption and are still brave enough to speak out against it.
“We have hope because of the great people and patriots [of Venezuela],” he said.
Chacin said she believes Trump has approached the situation in Venezuela the best way possible and agrees with his support for “the Venezuelans’ fight for freedom and restoration of democracy in the country.”
Juan Roberto, a graduate student in UM’s master in business administration program and a graduate assistant for UNIVEN, said he was in accordance with Chacin’s opinion. Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, Roberto said President Trump is taking the necessary action to prevent the crisis in Venezuela from leaving a negative impact on the region.
“Mr. Trump is doing very well and giving the example to the other countries in our hemisphere, as well as supporting the nations that need help,” he said.
Since Guaidó’s attempt to replace Maduro, humanitarian relief has been blocked off from the country on all ends, resulting in an escalation in the exodus of Venezuelans from the country. Trump asked Maduro during this speech to let humanitarian aid into the country and allow the U.S. to assist those who require basic necessities such as food, water and toiletries.
“Trumps’ administration has rightfully acknowledged Guaidó as president and has sent immediate aid to Venezuela which the Venezuelan government needs to accept,” Stoner said.
UNIVEN recently initiated a drive on the university campus to collect food items, articles of clothing, toiletries and children’s toys directly to Venezuela.
Chacin said she’s happy with Trump’s method of “working along with the legitimate interim president” and that he has “not taken any measures not previously agreed with the interim government of Venezuela.” This has maintained largely stable relations between the U.S. and Venezuela for now; however, Chacin said only pressure from the U.S. will result in the Venezuelan regime’s complete overthrow.
“Venezuelans need the U.S administration’s help as that from other nations, so they are able to have back the rule of law, independence of power, freedom and democracy,” she said.
The president additionally sent a powerful message to those still supportive of the tyrannical government.
“I ask every member of the Maduro regime: end this nightmare,” he said. “The eyes of the entire world are upon you.”
Trump also told supporters of Maduro that they can “no longer avoid the choice” before them, and that the time to back Guaidó is now.
Roberto said he wanted to remind Venezuelan students living in the U.S. that “we must do our part for the cause of freedom and democracy.”
“The approach that President Trump has taken, in my opinion, is targeted to hurt those responsible for the hunger, death and imprisonment of innocent people who have protested against the constant violation of human rights in the country,” Chacin said.
Many people in both the U.S. and Venezuela believe that American military intervention has the potential to help bring an end to Maduro’s rule. When a member of the audience shouted “send in the troops,” Trump responded saying, “we seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open.” This resulted in an eruption of applause from the spectators.
The president went on to animate the crowd by assuring it that “America will never be a socialist country.”
“Socialism is a sad and discredited ideology rooted in the total ignorance of history and human nature, which is why socialism, eventually, must always give rise to tyranny,” he said.
Stoner said she was happy to hear Trump’s condemnation of socialism. “It is scary how in a socialist government the elite get richer and richer, while the common people starve to death and can’t afford the basic necessities of life,” she said.
Chacin said she can “only hope for justice” to arise from the developments in this Venezuelan crisis.
Roberto said he foresees a positive outcome from these events and believes that, once the dust has settled, “Venezuela will begin its recovery and many Venezuelans will return to the country to rebuild it.” In this recovery, Roberto said he trusts that the United States will provide its support, promoting the strengthening of the state.
Venezuelan flags were not the only ones scattered throughout the crowd. Various Nicaraguan and Cuban flags were also displayed by audience members who wanted to bring attention to other Latin American countries still under corrupt rule. The President did not fail to address this.
“When Venezuela is free, and Cuba is free, and Nicaragua is free, this will become the first free hemisphere in all of human history,” Trump said.
He also emphasized that the U.S. has already gotten a glimpse into a free future through the many Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan residents in South Florida who came to America to build a better life.
Outside of the venue, the atmosphere was not quite as supportive of the president.
Protesters criticized Trump on various fronts. Signs displayed messages of a dying democracy and the need to prioritize environmental problems. Most prominently, however, protesters attacked the president for his demand for a wall along America’s southern border.
Chacin said she does not agree with Trump’s recent declaration of a national security emergency. She said she cannot identify a legitimate basis for why the president would label the state of affairs along the border as an urgent problem.
Instead, she said she believes that investing in technology and human resources that could improve border control should “be the main objective at this time to secure all U.S. borders against any danger to the nation.”
Stoner, on the other hand, vouched for Trump’s decision to build a physical barrier between the U.S. and Mexico. She listed statistics on sex trafficking, gang violence and the transfer of drugs between the two countries to justify the need for a wall.
“This has to stop. If a wall will help keep Americans safe why are some people so against it?” She went on to say “It is time the government starts listening to the people and protecting Americans.”