President Donald Trump indicated Monday that socialism is on its way out and a "new day" is being ushered in for Venezuela and other Latin American countries.
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump addressed Venezuelans at Florida International University in Miami and discussed the growing crisis in the South American country.
"We're here to proclaim a new day is coming in Latin America. It's coming," Trump said to a round of applause.
"In Venezuela and across the western hemisphere, socialism is dying and liberty, prosperity, and democracy are being reborn. Today, our hearts are filled with hope because of the determination of millions of everyday Venezuelans, the patriotism of the Venezuelan National Assembly, and the incredible courage of Interim President Juan Guaido."
Guaido and his allies claim to have taken control of the poverty-stricken, socialist nation of Venezuela, although President Nicolas Maduro maintains that he remains in control of the country.
The United States and other western nations have recognized Guaido as Venezuela's new leader.
"The people of Venezuela are standing for freedom and democracy and the United States of America is standing right by their side," Trump said Monday.
During her introductory remarks, Melania Trump offered a similar message.
"In Venezuela, the people are on the brink of reclaiming their own liberty. Today, we must let the Venezuelan people hear us with a united voice," she said. "There's hope. We are free and we pray together loudly and proudly that soon the people of Venezuela will be free as well."
Trump's speech carried a serious tone, particularly when he spoke about the U.S. aid that is being prevented from entering Venezuela by the Maduro regime — which he said is starving its own people.
"He would rather see his people starve than give them aid, than help them," Trump said.
"Millions of Venezuelans are starving and suffering, while a small handful at the top of the Maduro regime plunder the nation into poverty and into debt. We know who they are, and we know where they keep the billions of dollars that they have stolen."
Trump also fired off a warning to people who are helping keep Maduro in the presidential palace: watch your back.
"You cannot hide from the choice that now confronts you," said Trump, who later ripped socialism as something that comes with big promises but only leads to poverty.
"President Guaido does not seek retribution against you, and neither do we. But you must not follow Maduro's orders to block humanitarian aid and you must not threaten any form of violence against peaceful protesters.
Trump noted that people who try to help Maduro stay in power "will find no safe harbor, no easy exit, and no way out. You will lose everything."
Trump offered strong backing for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom the United States, many of Venezuela's neighbors and most Western countries have recognized as interim president of Venezuela.
But Maduro, who won a second term last year in an election that critics denounced as a sham, retains the backing of Russia and China and control of Venezuelan state institutions, including the security services.
Trump cautioned Venezuelan armed forces not to harm Guaido or other opposition politicians, urged them to accept the National Assembly leader's offer of amnesty and demanded that they allow in food, medicine and other supplies.
The United States has sent tons of aid that is being stockpiled on Colombia's border with Venezuela, but Maduro has refused to let it in.
Guaido, who invoked constitutional provisions to declare himself the country's leader last month, has said that aid will enter Venezuela from neighboring countries by land and sea on Saturday.
If the opposition does not manage to bring it in then, it will try on following days, he said on Monday.
Maduro calls the aid a U.S.-orchestrated show and denies any crisis despite many Venezuelans' scant access to food and medicine.
"We seek a peaceful transition of power but all options are open," Trump said. It was a further hint of Trump's repeated insistence that military options remain on the table, though most Latin America experts believe such action is unlikely.
The United States has had direct communications with members of Venezuela's military urging them to abandon Maduro, a senior White House official told Reuters this month. Trump's aides have openly predicted more defections.
But so far few military officers have turned against Maduro.
A source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks, where many officers are suspected of benefiting from corruption and drug trafficking.
Trump used his speech at Florida International University to deliver a full-throated condemnation of socialism, saying it was "dying" across the Western Hemisphere, and branded Maduro a "puppet" of communist-ruled Cuba.
Trump wants to boost support among Florida's Hispanic voters as he looks ahead to his re-election campaign in 2020, when Florida is again expected to be an important swing state.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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