President Donald Trump reaffirmed the United States support for Venezuela’s interim president Juan Guaidó and its promise to prevent the “spread of socialist tyranny” during a visit to the University on Monday, Feb. 18, amidst protests on the Graham Center lawns.
“The twilight hour of socialism has arrived at our hemisphere and frankly in many many places around the world. The days of socialism and communism are numbered not only in Venezuela but in Nicaragua and in Cuba,” Trump said to a cheering crowd in the Ocean Bank Convocation Center at the Modesto Maidique campus.
Those words a stark contrast to what was happening on the lawns, with a mix of University and community protestors holding up signs with words such as “Hands off Venezuela” and a big banner which said in Spanish “We reject the coup of the United States on Venezuela,” with the banner also rejecting Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
Andy Vila, chapter president of Young Democratic Socialists of America, was one of those protestors.
“Most of us are here because we’re trying to show resistance against Trump’s attempts to start an illegitimate coup in Venezuela,” Vila said to PantherNOW. “We think he’s doing it for oil interest and for capitalist and corporate interests. And obviously as a socialist organization, we’re trying to say we’re not supportive of any attempt to overthrow a foreign government for that purpose.”
Not everyone felt that way, with a long line of Trump supporters waiting to get into the arena.
Maritza Vazquez, a Venezuelan, believes Guaidó is her country’s legitimate president and is hopeful democratic elections will soon be on the horizon.
“We are supporting our country even though we’ve been fighting a long time for this. Now we see that we have the support of the international community who has finally noticed that everything we’ve said these past 20 years is real,” said Vazquez in Spanish to PantherNOW. “Venezuela has communism and people are dying from hunger, that there’s no medicine and that they’re killing those who dare go against the government.”
At one point, anti-protestors filled the sidewalks across from the arena. However, despite a few arguments and a shouting match between the two opposing sides, protests remained relatively peaceful.
The day’s protest, however, caused one Venezuelan woman to tear up.
“It is sad that every Venezuelan student studying here has to experience this. It is disrespectful because they have never experienced what it is to live in a communist-socialist country…if you say something because of the government you are thrown in jail,” the woman said to reporters, including PantherNOW. “A couple months ago a kid imprisoned at 15-years-old, another one 11-years-old. Is that justified? It’s not.”
While imitating a regular Trump rally in many ways– with chants of “USA” and red “Make America Great Again” hats, Trump’s speech centered on Venezuela’s crisis and how Nicolas Maduro, who still has the support of Venezuela’s military, blocked all humanitarian aid from entering the country, including 180-ton of aid sent for the first time on U.S. military aircrafts from a base in Homestead two days prior.
Guaidó also made a surprise appearance via video, thanking Trump and Florida for its support, saying that the fight in Venezuela has become “life and death.”
The president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Guaidó was sworn in as the country’s interim president on Wednesday, Jan. 23.
However, Maduro’s military support makes it difficult for Guaidó to fully transition into the presidency, as Student Media previously reported, despite having support from most of the Venezuelan community and countries such as the U.S., Canada, Colombia and most of Latin America.
Several European countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain, have also recognized Guaidó’s legitimacy, as of Feb. 4, and so has Israel, which hasn’t had relations with the country for about a decade.
Besides military power, Maduro also retains the support of countries such as Russia, China, Syria and Cuba, which increases the complexity of the problem internationally.
“Maduro is not a Venezuelan patriot. He is a Cuban puppet,” Trump said.
Throughout his speech, which PantherNOW attended, Trump spoke specifically to the large Venezuelan and Cuban communities in South Florida, as well as the Nicaraguans.
Governor Ron DeSantis, U.S. Senator Rick Scott, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio also came to the podium to talk about the dangers of socialism and to show their support for Trump, Guaidó and the oppressed people of Venezuela and Cuba.
Speaking in both English and Spanish, Rubio–who recently returned from visiting the Colombian-Venezuelan border with Representative Mario Diaz-Balart– also reiterating how the U.S. will stand with the people of Venezuela as “long as they stand for liberty.”
“This is not an American initiative,” Rubio said. “This is a Venezuelan initiative.”
Several organizations however, disagree and said they do not want American “imperialism” to affect Venezuela. Others, like the spokesperson for the “Hands Off Venezuela” coalition told PantherNOW they believe U.S. representatives aren’t looking for the interest of American citizens and are worried the U.S. might find themselves in another war.
Julio Leon, a Venezuelan student, is not happy with the protests.
“”I just don’t like the fact that they are using my country and the situation of Venezuela to push an agenda against him,” Leon said to PantherNOW. “In Venezuela, children are dying every day from malnutrition because they cannot find treatment for basic illnesses…My family still lives there and I cannot stand the people who have never heard of Venezuela until a month ago and come here to express an opinion about a country they know nothing about.”
Saturday, Feb. 23, is expected to be a historical turning point for the country, according to Rubio. Thousand of Venezuelans, he said, will attempt to deliver supplies to those in need despite the risks.
Trump also sending a message to those still supporting Maduro’s government, asking them to accept Guadio’s offer of amnesty, to stop blocking humanitarian aid, and to not threaten violence against the opposition.
“The eyes of the entire world are upon you today, everyday and every day in the future. You cannot hide from the choice that now confronts you,” Trump said. “…We seek a peaceful transition of power but all options are open.”
Additional Reporting by Eduardo Alvarez, Lazaro Bosch, Joshua Ceballos, Tamica Jean-Charles, Zoe Chin, and Ossman Darwiche.
If you missed our livestream of the event, you can click here to watch.