South Florida’s Venezuelan expats welcomed Vice President Mike Pence to Miami on Friday to hear him rally them behind the Trump Administration’s campaign to dislodge socialist Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power. Most were left feeling unusually hopeful.
At a packed Doral church, Pence told Venezuela’s authoritarian regime that "all options are on the table"— meaning U.S. military intervention is still possible if Maduro doesn’t step aside. Some Venezuelan expats like Nuvia Parra, a former state oil worker who went into exile five years ago, said that would be just fine with them.
Wearing a Venezuelan flag as a scarf, Parra said that kind of tough talk may be the only thing Maduro responds to at this point.
“Maduro now is listening that we have the support of the United States," Parra said. "And all the world is telling Maduro: ‘Fired! Fired! You are fired, Maduro!' Goodbye, Maduro.”
Other Venezuelans were more measured. Juan Correa is a Venezuelan democracy activist who took refuge in South Florida a decade go. He said it’s more prudent for the Trump Administration to go step by step as it tightens the screws on Maduro and persuades the Venezuelan military to ditch him.
Correa said he’s encouraged by reports the U.S. will now muster humanitarian aid into Venezuela in defiance of the military. That will test military loyalty to Maduro, who refuses to let aid in.
“I believe that they’ve been very clear," Correa said. "And something key that he said is that when the military arrives, the United States is going to deliver and protect the humanitarian aid. And I believe that’s going to be the next showdown.”
Venezuela is suffering the world’s worst economic collapse today. Hyperinflation and dire shortages of food and medical supplies have caused millions to flee.
This week, the U.S. levied heavy sanctions on oil imports from Venezuela in hopes of forcing out Marduro and restoring stability.
Before Pence's speech, South Florida expat leader Carlos Vecchio—who is now the de facto ambassador to the U.S. for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who with U.S. support last month declared himself the country's legitimate president—told WLRN that the next step is indeed the humanitarian aid showdown.
“We want to use our borders to send those foods and medicine," Vecchio said. "We will do that soon—and we are asking the military force to be on our side. So they cannot be with Maduro anymore. They have to be with the people who need that food and medicine – and they know that because they have family. They are suffering the same thing that ordinary people are suffering in Venezuela.”
Expat Denise Cabrera said her mother died in Venezuela recently after running out of medicine.
"I like that everybody is giving Venezuela support and we are together," Cabrera said, fighting back tears.
She and other Venezuelans said Pence's passion about forcing out Maduro gave them hope. Pence—who also held a roundtable in Doral to hear Venezuelans' stories of exile—received a big applause when he said, "This is not time for dialogue" with Maduro. "This is time for action."
The Vice President was joined by a host of Republican Florida politicos including Gov. Ron DeSantis, Miami-Dade Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, Sen. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio, who led the charge to get the Trump administration to recognize Guaidó as Venezuela's rightful president.