Their statements about Venezuela reflect an incredible ignorance and may help President Trump win Florida — and perhaps even the presidential election — in 2020.
While the Democratic Party leadership is rightly supporting U.S. diplomatic and economic measures against Venezuela’s dictator Nicolás Maduro, Sanders and other members of his party’s Jurassic left wing are on the wrong side of the defense of democracy and human rights.
In a Jan. 24 response to Trump’s recognition of Venezuela’s National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader, Sanders echoed the Maduro propaganda line by warning that, “The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries. We must not go down that road again.”
Sanders accurately noted that Maduro has violated Venezuela’s Constitution several times. But his statement criticized America’s support for Guaidó, and was much closer to Russia, China and Cuba’s stands on Venezuela than to that of virtually all Western democracies.
Other left-wing Democratic legislators didn’t even mention Maduro’s break of democratic rule. Ocasio-Cortez retweeted a statement criticizing Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin for his hard line against the Maduro regime and saying that, “The United States should not anoint the leader of the opposition in Venezuela during an internal, politicized conflict.”
Even worse, freshman U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, denounced an alleged U.S.-backed “coup” in Venezuela, and called for a “dialogue” with the Maduro dictatorship.
To be sure, the vast majority of Democrats in Congress support Guaidó. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted Jan. 24 that, “America stands by the people of Venezuela as they rise up against authoritarian rule.” Democratic Sens. Durbin and Bob Menendez have been among the most active supporters of the pro-democracy movement in Venezuela.
But the Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Democratic Party’s refusal to back Guaidó as Venezuela’s constitutional leader is both morally repugnant — and politically foolish.
It’s morally repugnant because Guaidó was legally elected interim president by the National Assembly, which is the only democratic institution left in Venezuela. It was elected in a December 2015, election that — despite government intimidation, censorship and massive state propaganda — the opposition won by a landslide.
Under Venezuela’s Constitution, the National Assembly has the right to elect its president as the country’s interim leader when the government is taken over by an illegitimate leader. That’s exactly what happened in Venezuela.
Maduro broke the rule of law in 2016 when he single-handedly stripped the democratically elected National Assembly of most of its powers. He did it again in 2018, when he proclaimed himself winner of shamelessly fraudulent presidential elections. So there is an illegitimate leader in Venezuela — Maduro
That’s why virtually all major Western democracies — including the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France, Brazil, and Argentina, with the unfortunate exception of Mexico — are recognizing Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. Even Spain’s socialist government and the Socialist International group of democratic socialist political parties are backing Guaidó.
The left-wing Democrats’ statements echoing Maduro’s propaganda line could also badly damage the party’s chances to recover the White House in 2020, as the Venezuela conflict increasingly becomes a domestic political issue.
The Trump administration is increasingly using its Venezuela policy as an electoral strategy to win Cuban-American votes in Florida, a key swing state. About 17 percent of registered Florida voters are Hispanic, and the vast majority of them are Cuban Americans and other Latinos who strongly oppose to the Cuba-backed Maduro regime.
That’s why Vice President Mike Pence came to Miami on Friday, accompanied by a big entourage of Florida Republican leaders, to meet with Venezuelan exiles. Pence and other top administration officials are also constantly tweeting against Maduro. White House political strategists smell a political opportunity in Florida, and they are making the most of it.
Will the Democrats react in kind? Will Democratic congressional leaders and presidential candidates come to Florida to stress their full support for Guaidó?
They should do it as soon as possible. It’s the right thing to do — and it’s the politically smart thing to do. Otherwise, Cuban-American voters will vote in even greater numbers for Republicans in 2020, and help re-elect Trump in 2020.
Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sunday at 8 pm on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera