Over the weekend, President Trump was quoted saying he was interested in meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. And that has set off alarm bells – both to denounce and defend Trump – inside South Florida’s large Venezuelan diaspora.
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In an interview with Axios, President Trump said he’s open to meeting with Maduro – even though his administration no longer recognizes Maduro or his authoritarian socialist regime as legitimate.
Trump also disparaged the man the U.S. does recognize as Venezuela’s real president — opposition leader Juan Guaidó. It all left many Venezuelans in South Florida bewildered.
“I’m very hopeful that they can see through the false promises and false expectations," says Miami business consultant Millie Herrera, a Cuban-born, Venezuelan-raised expat.
As a Democrat, Herrera believes Trump's remarks will alienate expat voters here and make them reassess his stalled efforts to restore democracy in their native country — "because whenever it gets close to an election cycle," she says, "politicians like Trump come to Miami and they go, ‘Cuba libre! Venezuela libre!’ and nothing is going to happen.”
But Venezuelans here who support Trump point out he has since clarified his remarks to say he’d meet with Maduro only to discuss his “exit from power.”
“Not only Trump, all politicians have to meet with evil, like Kim in North Korea and the communist Chinese regime, it’s part of their job," says expat Lourdes Ubieta, a Spanish-language radio host in Miami who's voting for Trump because she says he’s made Venezuela a foreign policy priority.
"So if a meeting with Maduro will bring freedom and democracy to Venezuela, then I'll applaud the meeting.”
Despite Trump’s Axios remarks, Juan Guaidó’s ambassador to Washington, Carlos Vecchio, thanked Trump this week for his “steadfast support.”
In his new tell-all memoir, Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton, asserts Trump was lukewarm about making the decision to back Guaidó last year and that Trump called Guaidó weak "like a kid."