Rick Scott isn’t waiting to see if Juan Guaidó can successfully get the Venezuelan military to switch sides and oust Nicolás Maduro.
The Florida senator called for the U.S. military to be positioned on the Venezuelan border on Tuesday, hours after Guaidó and Leopoldo López declared a “start of the end of the usurpation” with armed soldiers by their side.
Scott’s call for the U.S. military to “deliver aid to the people and defend freedom and democracy as well as U.S. national security interests in our hemisphere” was the strongest language used by a U.S. official on Tuesday morning. Other key figures like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Marco Rubio and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway urged the Venezuelan military to oust Maduro and expressed general support for Guaidó.
Scott also wants the U.S. military to break down barriers at the Venezuelan border erected by Maduro to allow aid into the country immediately.
“Absolutely,” Scott said in an interview with the Miami Herald when asked if U.S. troops should dismantle barriers at the border. “Every other democracy in the world that cares about freedom ought to be doing the same thing,” Scott said. “This is ridiculous. We’re seeing genocide happen right in front of our eyes and we’re not aggressive enough.”
Scott downplayed the need for U.S. naval or air support, saying that getting humanitarian aid into Venezuela is his top priority at the moment, but “that we’ve got to do everything that we can” to oust Maduro.
“We’d like it to happen today, but whatever day we can make something work ... whether he’s in Cuba or Turkey or someplace, is a good day for freedom and democracy and the people of Venezuela, but it’s also a good day for Americans,” Scott said.
Pompeo told CNN on Tuesday afternoon that Maduro had been sitting on a plane about to head to Cuba, but the Russians told him to stay. President Donald Trump tweeted that he will implement a “full and complete embargo” on Cuba if they don’t cease military and intelligence operations on behalf of Maduro.
“If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba,” Trump tweeted. “Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island!”
When asked if he would consider Tuesday’s actions a success if Maduro maintains control over the military, Scott paused.
“I’ve already called on the Venezuelan military to stand for freedom and democracy in Venezuela and support Juan Guaidó,” Scott said. “The United States must also be ready to answer that call. Guaidó and the people of Venezuela have taken this critical step. We cannot abandon them. Inaction is not an option.”
Scott then called on the U.S. military to mobilize at the border to deliver aid and defend freedom and democracy in Venezuela, steps that could be seen as a declaration of war if Maduro maintains control of a portion of the armed forces.
“The U.S. military MUST be ready to supply humanitarian aid and defend freedom and democracy in Venezuela,” Scott said. “The Maduro regime is starving its own people while our enemies are using Venezuela as a foothold in the Western Hemisphere. President Trump should immediately position American military assets to be ready to deliver aid to the people and defend freedom and democracy as well as U.S. national security interests in our hemisphere. This is a fight against Cuba, Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah who are all in Venezuela right now and want to inflict pain and torture on the people.”
There’s opposition to Scott’s approach and language in Washington.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul said it’s a “mistake” to send U.S. troops into Venezuela and that the president doesn’t have the authority to do it. California Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee also spoke out against military intervention on Tuesday.
Miami Democrats Donna Shalala, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Debbie Wasserman Schultz along with Central Florida Democrat Darren Soto expressed support for Guaidó at a press conference in Washington, but did not think Scott’s call for U.S. military involvement was the right direction.
“We’re getting way ahead of ourselves if we’re talking about what happens if this doesn’t work. We’re here to back up the support the United States has provided to Juan Guaidó,” said Wasserman Schultz, whose district includes Weston, one of the largest Venezuelan communities in the United States. “We need to take this in a sequential process and do everything we can to make sure that the Venezuelan people can achieve a peaceful transition back to democracy.”
Mucarsel-Powell, the first member of Congress born in South America, called on the Venezuelan military to back Guaidó.
“I have seen first hand what happens to a country when a dictator, a brutal regime, attacks its own people,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “I have one message and one message only to the military personnel who are still working under the Maduro regime. Put down your arms, stop attacking your own civilians, this is your moment, the world is watching.”
The Pentagon did not immediately announce any response to Guaidó’s move on Tuesday. Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said “we’re aware of the situation and ready to provide assistance if needed.”
Another defense official told McClatchy on the condition of not being named that the Pentagon had been expecting May Day protests, but that Guaidó’s announcement that he had the backing of Venezuela’s military took the building by surprise.
As of early Tuesday there had not been a request from the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command to position U.S. military assets nearby, such as the hospital ship USNS Comfort, the official said. The Norfolk, Virginia-based Comfort treated thousands of Venezuelan refugees during port visits to Honduras, Colombia and Ecuador in December.
But Scott wants the military there now.
“The time for talking is over. It’s time for action.”
McClatchy DC staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report.