Fabiola Santiago

Neither Cuba nor Venezuela was on Trump’s mind in Miami campaign stop. Bored already? | Opinion

Ah, President Donald Trump, that box of chocolates, never know what ya gonna get.

Given his demonstrated lack of eloquence in general, it’s hard to tell where serious topics truly stand with President Trump. But it seemed clear from Trump’s run through Miami-Dade this week — following his incendiary and cult-like campaign kickoff in Orlando — that Venezuela wasn’t on his mind.

Without the quick foreign policy victory he was expecting to gain going into the 2020 presidential election, has Trump lost interest in Venezuela?

For the sake of Venezuelans, I hope his silence isn’t indicative, as The Washington Post reported, of the president “losing both patience and interest in Venezuela” in light of strongman Nicolás Maduro’s entrenchment.

But it is way out of character for Trump to be visiting the home base of Venezuelans in exile — “Doralzuela,” we affectionately call it here — and not at least boast about his support for Juan Guaidó and the opposition.

No, Trump didn’t utter a word about Venezuela during an appearance at his Doral hotel in the presence of media — nor at the private $250,000-a-plate fundraiser he attended, a source who was there told The Post.

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Nor did he say much of relevance about Cuba at this crucial moment when his administration has undertaken a radical U.S.-Cuba policy overhaul that is already having major impact.

Lawsuits are being filed almost every week against U.S. and European companies for profiting from confiscated property in Cuba, including Miami’s cruising king, Carnival. And, on the island, as a result of the loss of U.S. travelers to Trump’s cutback on tourism — and the usual Communist Party mismanagement — Cubans are facing food shortages and enduring endless lines for whatever arrives at the local bodega.

What Trump did say about Cuba — only after being prompted by a Miami Herald reporter — was so sophomoric you wouldn’t know this is the man who (allegedly) is leading a complete about-face of President Barack Obama’s once hopeful engagement policy.

Here’s the entire exchange:

Q: What do you think is Miami’s biggest challenge?

A: “We just want to keep it going strong. We want to keep Miami going strong. And I think we’re giving a tremendous help to the people of Cuba living in Miami.”

At this point, some onlookers chant: “Yeah, Cuba! Cuba!”

Trump continues: “I have tremendous support from the people from Cuba. And I’m doing the right thing. We’re tough on Cuba, because they’re not doing the right thing for our people. It will all work out.”

Our people? The people of Cuba? The people from Cuba?


Can someone who speaks Trump translate?

He confuses Cubans and Cuban Americans with his hard-line Republican voters in Miami, for whom Trump has overturned an Obama policy of rapprochement that needed tweaking and a stronger hand, certainly, but had brought unprecedented American influence to Cuba without firing a single shot.

Maybe the president was tired from all the immigrant bashing he did in Central Florida to the delight of his followers. It takes a lot of energy to hate.

Supporters turned out hours before President Trump appeared at a rally in Orlando to kick off his re-election campaign. Joe Raedle Getty Images

Maybe he’s got more pressing matters on his mind with the Iran crisis growing, but most likely, he thinks he’s got the reliable Cuban-American vote in the bag.

So let me push the replay button: Only 50% of Cuban-American voters chose Trump in 2016, according to the most respected pollsters. As for election results, Miami-Dade County went to Hillary Clinton, as did nearly two-thirds of the votes from Florida’s 2.2 million Hispanics.

This includes Venezuelan Americans, whose family members are vulnerable to Trump’s mandate (or just rant, hard to tell) for ICE to round up and deport the “millions” who have overstayed visas or crossed the border.

When asked about TPS for Venezuelans, Trump keeps saying he’s “studying” the issue. Every time he makes the promise — three times this year alone, although not this week in Doral — he scores front-page headlines.

Meanwhile in Congress, the Democratic-held House is not only pushing TPS legislation for Venezuelans but Thursday approved $3 million in funding to defend democracy in Venezuela. The bill was sponsored by three Democrats from Florida: Reps. Donna Shalala of Miami and Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto of Orlando.

The money will be used to “support human rights defenders in Venezuela, help document abuses by the regime of Nicolás Maduro, support independent media outlets, and keep the hope of democracy alive in this increasingly authoritarian country,” according to their joint statement.

U.S. Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez give an update on efforts to protect Venezuelans living in the United States from deportation at Doral’s Saman Arepas restaurant on May 9, 2019. Jose A. Iglesias jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Trump’s misses are an opportunity for Democratic presidential candidates debating in Miami next week to connect with voters.

Democrats have concrete policy proposals and wins on Venezuela to show — yet Trump only rhetoric and promises.

Let’s just hope they’ve done their homework and don’t blow it.

What to us is another election, to the people of the Americas — and particularly Cuba and Venezuela — it may be the only hope left.

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Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”