Overshadowed by President Trump’s threatening words aimed at North Korea was his rebuke of Cuba and Venezuela with blistering words not heard from a U.S. president at the United Nations in years.
It was an unusual scenario because Latin American issues — of high interest in South Florida — often are on the White House’s back burner during such international gatherings.
But on Tuesday, Trump gave the Venezuelan crisis several minutes during his General Assembly address — rightly criticizing the South American country just as much as he did North Korea, Syria, and Iran, our declared enemies.
Raúl Castro’s Cuba also received a tongue lashing, with Trump calling that government “a corrupt, destabilizing regime.” This while the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission was sitting in session, discussing, above all, the sonar attacks on U.S. diplomats working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
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“My administration recently announced that we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban government until it makes fundamental reforms,” Trump told world leaders, publicly embarrassing Cuba.
In June, the administration announced a partial rollback of the U.S.-Cuban detente crafted by President Obama. Cuba called Trump’s remark “disrespectful, unacceptable, and meddling.”
Trump moved on to Venezuela, singling it out for some of his most biting criticism: “We have also imposed tough calibrated sanctions on the socialist Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela, which has brought a once thriving nation to the brink of total collapse.” Trump urged world leaders Tuesday to help restore “democracy and political freedoms” in Venezuela, an encouraging pivot from his isolationist tendencies.
Maduro, who did not attend the U.N. gathering, heard the insults all the way in Caracas, and simmered.
And he turned the tables on Trump’s penchant for nicknames and gave him his own: “the new Hitler.” He also accused Trump of wanting to assassinate him. “Donald Trump today threatened the president of the Bolivarian Republican of Venezuela with death.”
Not exactly, though Trump did threaten North Korea with annihilation.
Maduro described Trump’s forceful U.S. address as an “aggression from the new Hitler of international politics, Mr. Donald Trump, against the people of Venezuela.”
It’s been most troubling to hear the president, Maduro, and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un blithely launch overheated, red-faced, name-calling attacks on each other. Each and every one is a bully. But this is not a school yard. Their egos are playing with real lives.
Trump did threaten additional economic sanctions against Maduro if he “persists on a path to impose authoritarian rule.” Trump on Thursday, as promised, imposed new tougher sanctions on North Korea, with the help of China.
This time, wisely, there was no talk of a military option. Surrounding nations have told Trump they do not support U.S. military action against Venezuela.
But Maduro should not think that gives him cover.
Trump is misguided — and flat-out wrong — about many things. But he’s right to call out Venezuela and Cuba. Just ask the hundreds of thousands of exiles from both countries now living in South Florida — to say nothing of the beleaguered citizens still living in the belly of those beasts.