By Joan Murray


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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – President Donald Trump delivered a speech this Presidents’ Day from Florida International University, where he addressed the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

Trump took to the stage, among chants of ‘Libertad, Libertad (Freedom, freedom),’ as he was introduced by First Lady Melania Trump.

“A new day is coming in Latin America,” Trump said.

President Trump spoke about Venezuelan hero Oscar Perez. “He was a Venezuelan police officer who gave his life for the freedom of his people.”

The President recognized Perez’s mother on the stage. She asked for his son’s legacy to continue the fight for freedom for Venezuela.

“The United States is proud to be the first nation in the world to recognize interim President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó,” Trump said.

Trump noted that there are “truckloads” of humanitarian aid stalled at the Venezuelan border “waiting to help millions and millions in need.”

The President ramped up the public pressure on the regime of Nicolas Maduro, following a series of US-led sanctions and diplomatic maneuvers aimed at ousting Maduro.

“Two days ago the first us air force C-17 landed in Colombia loaded with crucial assistance, including thousands of nutrition kits for little Venezuelan children,” Trump said. “Unfortunately dictator Maduro has blocked this life-saving aid from entering the country. He would rather see his people starve than give them aid.”

Watch President Trump’s remarks on Venezuela:

 

Trump pointed the finger not just at Maduro, but at the “small handful at the top of the Maduro regime” who he accused of plundering the nation.

“We know who they are and we know where they keep the billions of dollars they have stolen,” Trump said.

Trump also warned that Venezuelan military officials who continue to back Maduro, “You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything.”

“We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open,” Trump said, while also denouncing socialism.

Trump’s message to the Venezuelan military, “If you choose this path, you will lose everything.”

“Now is the time for all Venezuelan patriots to act as one, united people.”

Then President Trump talked about the ‘agony of socialism.’

“Socialism by its very nature does not respect borders. It does not respect the boundaries or the sovereign rights of its citizens or its neighbors. It’s always seeking to expand, to encroach, and subjugate others to its will,” he told the crowd.

CBS4’s Jim DeFede offers his perspective on President Trump’s speech on Venezuela:

 

Trump vowed that “the twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere.”

“The days of socialism and communism are numbered, not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and in Cuba as well,” he said, adding that both countries have “such unbelievable potential.”

Maduro responded to Trump in comments broadcast on state television. He accused the U.S. president of speaking in an “almost Nazi style” and lashed out at Trump for thinking he can deliver orders to Venezuela’s military.

Maduro said, “Who is the commander of the armed forces, Donald Trump from Miami?” and added, “They think they’re the owners of the country.”

Ahead of Trump’s speech, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered strong remarks on Monday afternoon.

“We stand with Venezuela and want Maduro to get the hell out of Venezuela,” DeSantis said.

“Florida has your back. The United States has your back. And ‘dammit’ we are gonna see a free and democratic Venezuela.”

“In the end, we are reminded this is not an American initiative, but Venezuelan, from the people who want the right to live,” said US Senator Marco Rubio.

With the crisis worsening each day, tons of humanitarian aid is stuck at the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

Acting President Juan Guaidó is calling on Venezuelans to get the food medicine and supplies to suffering families on Saturday, not knowing how the military may react.

Guaidó addressed the crowd via satellite just before President Trump took to the stage.

Venezuelans living in South Florida say they hope President Trump can make a difference.

“People are dying every day. I hope he can restore democracy,” said an event attendee.

During the speech, President Trump called on Nicolas Maduro to formally leave power in Venezuela and allow Juan Guaidó’s government to take over.

The invitation-only event was held at the FIU Ocean Bank Convocation Center on the main campus in West Miami-Dade, just south of Doral, home to the largest concentration of Venezuelans in the U.S.

He talked about how the U.S. knows where Venezuelan officials and their families have money hidden throughout the world and how the military and security forces should listen to President Guaidó and allow humanitarian aid into Venezuela.

Guaidó has been in a power struggle with Nicolás Maduro, who is facing increasing pressure to give up power.

Maduro has maintained the support of the Venezuelan military, the main reason he has retained power in the financially struggling country.

Guaidó has invoked articles 233 and 333 of the Venezuelan constitution to become interim president. Those articles stipulate that when there is no president, the president of the National Assembly assumes power.

The country’s National Assembly deemed Maduro’s recent presidential reelection a sham after opposition parties were not allowed to participate, leaving a void at the presidency.

The Trump administration, along with 50 other nations, have declared Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, the rightful president of Venezuela.

Trump says he has not ruled out military intervention in the oil-rich nation and has declined to answer whether he was considering sending troops to the country.

He says he has “great respect” for Guaidó, calling him “the real president of Venezuela” and predicting the situation is “going to work out very well.”

In a joint statement issued after meeting the President of Colombia Ivan Duque, he said the U.S. and Colombia” will work with the Guaidó government to restore freedom, democracy, and prosperity to Venezuela.”

Meanwhile, in Caracas, Guaidó has called for a massive worldwide march for February 23 to let humanitarian aid into the country.

Venezuelans are angry because of lack of food, medicine, corruption, repression, the mass exodus of millions and what they call “the lack of a true democracy.”

The United Nations says that about five million Venezuelans have fled their country in recent years, many of them on foot.

Thousands of Venezuelans call South Florida home, especially the suburbs of Doral and Weston, according to the last census.

FIU is the largest university in South Florida, with over 50% of the school’s approximately 66,000 students being of Hispanic origin.

Guaidó, who has been recognized as the legitimate president of Venezuela by most of the hemisphere and Europe, embodies the hopes of millions of Venezuelans who have seen their country become another Cuba during the last 20 years under Hugo Chávez and Nicolas Maduro.

(©2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)

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