August 22, 2017

Pence will try to escape long shadow of Trump’s military talk on Venezuela

Week That Was In Latin America Photo Gallery(2)

The uncomfortable but inevitable question that dogged Vice President Mike Pence everywhere he went in Latin America last week will trail him to Miami on Wednesday: Is President Donald Trump really considering potential military action in Venezuela?

Pence tried over and over again to say no — without actually uttering the word or outright contradicting Trump — during his recent swing through Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama, where regional allies publicly rebuked the notion of any U.S. intervention.

The vice president’s cleanup tour will conclude Wednesday in Doral, home to the largest Venezuelan immigrant community in the U.S. In private meetings with local Venezuelans, and in remarks at a neighborhood church, Pence is expected to say the White House remains committed to punishing President Nicolás Maduro’s government for systematically dismantling the South American country’s democracy.

But exactly what the punishment from the U.S. might entail remains unclear, a month after Trump promised “strong and swift economic actions.”

Behind the scenes, the Trump administration has continued to debate its best move, with the eager-to-dialogue State Department clashing with the more-hawkish White House and National Security Council. But matters became much more complicated on Aug. 11, when Trump made his casual remark about a possibly “military option” against Maduro. The comment divided regional allies who had at long last come around to the U.S. position that Venezuela had become a dictatorship.

More here.

Photo credit: Victor R. Caviano, Associated Press

August 21, 2017

Pence is coming to Miami


To cap off his recent trip to Latin America, Vice President Mike Pence will travel Wednesday to Miami — the region’s unofficial capital — to keep focusing international attention on Venezuela’s political crisis.

The White House has yet to publicly announce the trip. But according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald, Pence is scheduled to deliver remarks at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Doral, Miami’s Venezuelan enclave.

Pence is also likely to stop by U.S. Southern Command, whose headquarters are in Doral, though neither Southcom nor the White House would confirm his plans Monday.

Last week, Pence got an earful from regional allies about President Donald Trump’s offhand remark that the U.S. might consider a “military option” against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

More here.

August 17, 2017

Gov. Scott to have lunch with Trump, meet with Kelly


Florida Gov. Rick Scott will have lunch Thursday with President Donald Trump, according to both men's schedules.

The private lunch will be held at 1 p.m. at Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, N.J. The president doesn't have any public events planned Thursday.

Before sitting down with Trump, Scott is scheduled to meet at 12:15 p.m. with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, the former head of U.S. Southern Command in Miami.

On Wednesday, Scott denounced white supremacists and indirectly challenged Trump's contention that there were "fine people" joining neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups during a violent rally over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va. Scott said there is no "moral equivalency" between the racist groups and counter-protesters, as Trump indicated, but did not directly criticize the president, as other local Republicans did.

"Last week, President Trump invited Governor Scott to lunch," Scott spokesman John Tupps said in a statement. "As Governor Scott always does when he meets with administration officials, he is going to advocate for priorities important to Florida families. Florida taxpayers send billions of dollars to Washington and Governor Scott always wants to make sure issues important to Florida are at the forefront."

This post has been updated with Tupps' comment.

August 15, 2017

Republicans again denounce Trump after he again accuses 'both sides' of violence in Charlottesville


Check out Miami Republicans' tweets from Saturday and now, again, from Tuesday, in response to President Donald Trump's insistence that "both sides" -- and not just white supremacists and neo-Nazis -- were to blame for violence over the weekend Charlottesville. The three lawmakers are Hispanic.

Continue reading "Republicans again denounce Trump after he again accuses 'both sides' of violence in Charlottesville" »

Curbelo: After Charlottesville, Trump should marginalize Bannon, Miller


President Donald Trump should stop listening to two top White House aides who want to "accommodate" white nationalist groups, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said after the weekend's deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Curbelo did not go as far as to call for Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist and senior counselor, and Stephen Miller, Trump's senior adviser for policy, to be fired. But he told CNN the two men should be "marginalized," and the president should give more weight to other advisers, such as new Chief of Staff John Kelly.

"'Alt-right' is about white nationalism. It's about racism. It is about dividing this country," Curbelo said on CNN's "Out Front" with Erin Burnett on Monday. "And regrettably, there are members of the president's staff who at least believe that this movement should be accommodated."

Curbelo named Bannon and Miller and blamed them for Trump's initial "lack of clarity" in his response to the Charlottesville clashes.

"I'm not saying these people are racists," Curbelo said. "I'm not saying they want to advance a racist agenda. But it is pretty clear they think these people should be accommodated." 

Curbelo was one of many Republicans to slam Trump for failing to forcefully denounce white supremacists Saturday. Trump only did so, with apparent reluctance, on Monday.

"Better late than never," Curbelo told CNN. "I'm glad the president came out and called evil by name." But he said he remained "concerned with that glaring omission from Saturday."

"He needs to take steps to make sure things like this never happen again," Curbelo said.

On Wednesday, Trump went back to blaming the violence on "both sides:" neo-Nazis and white supremacists and racists but also their counter-protesters.

He left Bannon's future in question.

"He is not a racist, I can tell you that," Trump told reporters. "We'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he's a good person" who gets treated "unfairly" by the press, he said.

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen began calling for Bannon's ouster in April.

August 11, 2017

Trump threatens military option in Venezuela

via @FrancoOrdonez @jimwyss @VeraMBergen

President Donald Trump threatened to take “military action” against Venezuela Friday, a comment that is sure to roil the divided South American nation and alarm its neighbors.

Trump made the statement during a press conference on the growing concerns of military action in North Korea, immediately raising the specter of United States intervening in two conflicts simultaneously, including one in our own hemisphere.

“Venezuela is a mess,” Trump said, adding. “This is our neighbor. We’re all over the world and we have troops all over the world that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering. And they’re dying.”

The provocative comments come as Washington has stepped up sanctions against Venezuelan officials in recent weeks and just a day after President Nicolás Maduro said he wanted to talk to Trump to overcome both nation’s differences.

Trump was surrounded by several members of his cabinet, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and National Security Council Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster.

“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump said.

They were the strongest words delivered by Trump since the administration called him a dictator and froze his assets following the July 30 vote in Venezuela that will allow a new constituent assembly to change the Venezuelan constitution and strip current lawmakers of power.

More here.

Photo credit: Juan Carlos Hernandez, Associated Press

Venezuela policy wins Trump unlikely Latin America friends

Peru Venezuela Crisis


In one of the most striking recent examples of Latin American unity, an emergency meeting held in Peru this week over how to handle Venezuela’s pressing political crisis drew 17 countries that denounced a “breakdown” of democracy.

Foreign ministers flew to Lima from every corner of the Western Hemisphere — except the U.S.

It wasn’t because the region had aligned itself against Washington. For once, Latin America’s biggest players came together to make the rarest of admissions: When it comes to Venezuela, they agree with President Donald Trump. At least for now.

“What we have in Venezuela is a dictatorship,” Peruvian Foreign Minister Ricardo Luna said Wednesday, speaking for the regional allies and echoing the White House’s same use of the D-word a week earlier.

Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and especially Mexico don’t see eye-to-eye with Trump on a string of issues — including cracking down on immigration and taking a harder line on Cuba. 

But with most of Washington focused on the North Korean nuclear threat, Russian election-meddling investigation and ongoing internal White House intrigue, Trump’s administration has steadily gained allies on Venezuela, the one urgent foreign-policy matter that hasn’t triggered frenzied cable-news debates and prompted Trump to vent on Twitter.

Behind the unusual display of regional unity is opposition to the all-powerful legislative body inaugurated last week by the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. The White House branded Venezuela a dictatorship — and other countries followed.

More here.

Photo credit: Martin Mejía, Associated Press

Anti-Castro politicians talk tough on Cuba after suspected attack on U.S. diplomats

Cuba embassy


As the Trump administration prepares to write new regulations regarding travel to Cuba, Havana and Washington are involved in a diplomatic tug of war that seems straight out of the 1960s.

American diplomats in Cuba left the country after experiencing severe hearing loss attributed to a sonic device, according to U.S. officials. In response, the U.S. government expelled two Cuban diplomats from Washington.

The Raúl Castro government vehemently denied any involvement, and there’s chatter the Russians could have been behind it.

“In terms of the timing ... if this was an intentional thing by the Cuban government, the timing couldn’t be worse or stranger,” said Collin Laverty, president of a company that arranges group trips to Cuba and is in favor of improved relations with Havana. “Relations were good when Obama was in office. This just seems completely out of context.”

Anti-Castro elements of the U.S. government, including Republicans from Miami, are capitalizing on the latest news as a sign that Havana cannot be trusted, even though it isn’t clear yet that the Cuban government tried to harm U.S. diplomats.


“The Cuban government has been harassing U.S. personnel working in Havana for decades,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. “This has not stopped with President Obama’s appeasement.”

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise the Castro regime can’t guarantee the safety of our diplomats,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, said. “The escalation described in these reports is unacceptable and clearly indicates that the previous administration’s policy of unilateral concessions failed to advance U.S. interests.”

“The Castro regime has a long and documented history of acting in a manner adverse to U.S. national interests,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said. “The expulsion of two Castro regime officials sends a clear message that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated.”

Rubio played a big role in the Trump administration’s decision earlier this summer to limit some types of travel to Cuba, and the president was eager to please conservative Cubans in Miami who helped him win the 2016 election.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding the incident, and the State Department declined to go into detail about what happened to the diplomats.

“We first heard about these incidents back in late 2016,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. “When we talk about medical issues, about Americans, we don’t get into it. We take those incidents very seriously, and there is an investigation currently under way.”

A White House official said the State Department and White House are “monitoring” the situation in Cuba.

On Wednesday, an unnamed U.S. official told The Associated Press that investigators were looking into the possibility that Russia or another third party could have carried out the attack without the Cuban government’s knowledge.

But Otto Reich, a former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under President George W. Bush, said it’s highly unlikely that the Cuban government would not be aware of a sonic device installed at the house of a diplomat.

Read more here.

August 10, 2017

'It's such a disaster': White House fights with State over Venezuela

Venezuela feud
via @FrancoOrdonez

White House promises of “strong and swift” economic sanctions meant to punish Venezuela have been slowed by a senior State Department official who is holding tight to an Obama-era posture that sidelines aggressive measures in favor of dialogue.

According to multiple sources familiar with the talks between the White House and State, Thomas Shannon, the undersecretary for political affairs and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s right-hand man at the department, has pushed back against the most aggressive sanctions out of concern they could close off diplomatic channels to Caracas.

“The White House is completely on a different page,” said a source who is familiar with the conversations but couldn’t speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the talks. “It’s such a disaster. It’s an absolute, absolute disaster.”

The Trump administration has been delivering mixed signals since the July 30 vote in Venezuela that will allow a new constituent assembly to change the Venezuelan constitution and strip current lawmakers of power.

Soon after the vote, McMaster and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took Trump’s message to the public declaring Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a dictator and announced new sanctions against him personally. The State Department moved more cautiously, delivering a message the next day through Spanish language media that they wanted to continue talks with the Maduro government.

“We want to dialogue with the government of President Maduro,” Michael Fitzpatrick, a deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere told EFE Spanish wire service. “We do not necessarily recognize parallel or separate governments. We respect the official government of Venezuela and President Maduro at this time.”

More here.

Photo credit: Wil Riera, Associated Press

Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio: All options on table for North Korea



Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio sounded deep concern over the situation with North Korea and say all options should be on the table, including a U.S. military strike.

“North Korea poses a serious threat to the U.S. and all options should be on the table to protect the American people,” Nelson said in a statement. “We either do nothing, go to war or negotiate a stand down, and so far we’ve seen no sign that they’re willing to negotiate.”

Rubio said the nation is moving toward a big decision whether to live with a North Korea with the capability of striking the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. “I think it’s an unacceptable risk and our options are limited,” he told reporters in Jacksonville on Wednesday.

“They all come with significant risks. But I think the unacceptable outcome would be to allow them to possess these weapons and the ability to strike us.”

Rubio said he was not advocating for a strike but, “as bad as that would be, it would be worse to live in a world held hostage by this man’s ability to strike the United States with a weapon.”

He defended President Donald Trump against criticism of using overly aggressive rhetoric.

“I don’t think the rhetoric is the problem,” Rubio said. “I think the problem is there is a lunatic in North Korea with nuclear weapons and the ability to put them on a missile that can reach the United States … And he was working on those nuclear weapons before Donald Trump was president. Trump is not the cause of a North Korea crisis.”

A reporter, however, questioned if Trump is inflaming things.

“I don’t have any concern about inflaming anything,” replied Rubio. “All the inflaming here is coming from this crazy guy in North Korea. Even if Donald Trump was the most diplomatic person in the world, he would be still be building a weapon and he would still be developing his missiles.”