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Trump ramps up pressure on Venezuela's Maduro in speech

Posted at 4:29 PM, Feb 18, 2019

President Donald Trump on Monday urged Venezuelan military officials to back the country's self-declared interim president Juan Guaido and allow humanitarian aid to flow into Venezuela .

During a Miami speech, 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 Venezuelan President 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."

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 are "risking their future."

"We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open," Trump said, while also denouncing 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 Miami crowd.

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."

The US and dozens of other countries last month recognized Guaido, the president of Venezuela's National Assembly, as the country's legitimate interim president as the toll of Venezuela's political, economic and humanitarian crisis mounted.

The US leveled its most significant financial sanctions against Venezuela late last month, targeting the country's state-owned oil company in a bid to tighten the vise around Maduro's regime. But Maduro has so far offered no indication that he intends to resign.

John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, indicated to reporters on Friday that many senior Venezuelan military officials have been "negotiating with the opposition."

"I wouldn't be surprised if we see in the next weeks senior military officials declare for Guaido or leave the country," he said.

Ahead of Trump's speech on Monday, Bolton maintained that the US is "happy to talk to Maduro or anybody in his former regime to discuss their exit terms from Venezuela."

While he said the US is keeping all options on the table, Bolton added there would be "no effort to use military force to deliver the humanitarian assistance" that the Venezuelan government has refused to allow into the country.

Trump has also previously seized on the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as a political attack line, warning voters in hyperbolic terms that Democratic policies will turn the US into Venezuela.

"The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America's economy after Venezuela," Trump claimed in a USA Today op-ed ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.