Updated: Jul 3, 2019
By Mariandrea Vergel Prieto, Edda Leon and Carla Palmer
As tons of humanitarian aid approached Venezuelan borders, President Donald Trump came to Florida International University on Monday and warned loyalists to President Nicolas Maduro, whose election is disputed, about the consequences of blocking its delivery.
Trump addressed the Venezuelan community and others in a speech given at the university’s Ocean Bank Convocation Center.
A video of Venezuelan interim President Juan Guaidó played on large video screens before Trump took the stage at about 4:40 p.m. Guaidó thanked Trump and the United States for supporting Venezuela’s democracy.
“The moment is now for change in Venezuela with determination and pressure from within Venezuela,” he said in the video. “With a peaceful mobilization and international cooperation, it will allow Venezuela to become free and a friend of everyone in the region.”
Trump started the speech by thanking the Venezuelan community and FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg for hosting the event.
One attendee, attorney Ronald Marcano, said he felt thankful to the United States for his and thousands of fellow Venezuelans’ safety. Marcano is a political refugee who fled the country after Maduro’s regime persecuted him.
“Dissenting with the government is not a crime,” he said. “Only in dictatorships is it a crime.”
Trump’s statement that the people of Venezuela would be free at last was followed by attendees chanting “U.S.A.”
“The people of Venezuela stand at the threshold of history,” he said, “ready to reclaim their country and ready to reclaim their future.”
Trump’s speech had an anti-socialist theme. The president said that socialism had brought Venezuela to “the brink of ruin” and how the political system had only brought “catastrophic” results around the world.
Trump introduced Ana Perez, the mother of Oscar Perez, a Venezuelan rebel who assassinated by Nicolas Maduro’s regime. When Perez took the stage, the audience started chanting “Que viva, Oscar Perez, que viva!”
“I’m here as a U.S. resident seeking humanitarian aid and justice,” she said. “We are going to continue this fight until we see a free Venezuela and we’re able to return to our motherland.”
Trump told the audience that the days of socialism were numbered “not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and Cuba as well.”
Elizabeth Barquero, a Nicaraguan Trump supporter, heard the speech outside the center. She said she admired Trump’s stance against socialism.
“We want Trump for four more years,” she said, “so that Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela [socialist dictatorships] fall as well.”
Trump addressed the Venezuelan military, telling it that its best option was to accept Interim President’s Juan Guaidó’s amnesty offer instead of following Maduro’s orders to block the humanitarian aid.
“We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open,” he said.
He added if militia members chose the latter, they would find “no way out” and “they would lose everything.”
Trump asked every member of Maduro’s regime to end the nightmare of poverty, hunger and death for the Venezuelan people. “Let your people go. Set your country free,” he said.
The president characterized political relationship between Venezuela and Cuba as one in which Maduro is a “Cuban puppet.”
“The ugly alliance between the two dictatorships is coming to a rapid end,” he said. “A new future is beginning.”
During the speech, the president assured the audience that the United States would not become a socialist nation. This was followed by loud cheers and audience members waving “Make America Great Again!” hats. Trump continued, “We will stay free, now and forever.”
Protesters and supporters gathered outside the center. Adelita Bedce held a sign that said “Humpty Trumpty had a great fall from his racist border wall.” Bedce said she thought Trump’s intention in Venezuela had more to with oil acquisition.
“I don’t think it has to do with the people or for the benefit of anyone but himself,” she said.
The president ended the speech on a hopeful note.
“When Venezuela is free, and Cuba is free and Nicaragua is free,” he said, “this will become the first hemisphere in all of human history [to be free].”
Afterward, as people exited the center, the public address system played the Rolling Stones’ song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”