Miami Republican helps Trump team turn up pressure on Venezuela

Former Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo made his jump to Trump administration official when he was sworn in Wednesday as U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States. He is a critical part of the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to turn up the pressure on Venezuela and Cuba.

Vice President Mike Pence delivered the oath of office to Trujillo, an early campaign supporter who Trump named as one of four U.S. representatives to the United Nations General Assembly before being nominated for this new role.

Trujillo quickly demonstrated what his priorities charging Wednesday that Venezuela should be kicked out of the United Nations-like organization of more than 30 nations.

"How can they be a member of an organization that fights for human rights and democracy when they don't agree with either," Trujillo said in an interview. "So I don't know why Venezuela has a seat at the table. It's something from the American perspective, we can't accept."

Trujillo will also put more pressure on Caribbean nations, who have sided with Venezuela against the United States during OAS votes.

Trujillo is ambitious and will immediately attempt to reinvigorate the OAS's role in managing the Venezuela crisis, said Benjamin Gedan, who was National Security Council director for Latin America during the Obama administration.

"The OAS is totally marginalized, and that is unfortunate," Gedan said. "Despite widespread cynicism about the OAS, it has the capacity to catalyze regional action. It is arguably more relevant than ever, given its activist secretary general and the chaos in Venezuela and resulting regional migration crisis."

Trujillo made clear that Cuba is also a priority and blasted the rapprochement policies of former President Barack Obama, who visited Cuba and, Trujillo described as, "shaking hands, eating hotdogs, and celebrating a baseball game with a dictator who tortured and imprisoned political prisoners and dissidents throughout many years."

"Just seeing my grandparents, that are both present here today, they left that," Trujillo, a Cuban-American, said at the ceremony. "Imagine being, towards the end of your life — and imagine all those people that left in refuge, whether they were Cuban or Venezuelan or any other part of the world, and really thinking, "Was all this struggle in vain? Is America really going to turn its back on human rights? Is America really going to turn its back on democracy?"

Trujillo is a key cog for an administration that has sharpened its rhetoric toward Venezuela over the last several months, from hinting at more sanctions and significant consequences should the Maduro government in Caracas continue to dismantle the South American country's democratic institutions.

"Carlos Trujillo has a strong understanding of U.S.-Latin American relations and recognizes the challenges to democracy and human rights that the Western Hemisphere faces," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., who has also advised the administration on Latin American issues. "I have no doubt that he will advance U.S. interests in the region and strongly condemn the oppressive regimes in Venezuela and Cuba."

A prominent lawyer, Trujillo served as assistant state attorney in the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office from 2007 to 2011. To take the Washington job, he had to resign his influential post as House budget chief in the Florida Legislature. The 35-year-old married father of four speaks both English and Spanish and has served as a Trump adviser on Latin American issues.

Trujillo is younger than many of his predecessors and has an atypical background for the job. But Mauricio Claver-Carone, the acting U.S. executive director for the International Monetary Fund who knew him in Miami, said it would be a mistake to "underestimate" Trujillo.

"Carlos is one of those people who know policy and politics, which in an institution like the OAS, which is difficult in nature, is really going to serve him and the United States and our interests," said Claver-Carone.

During the campaign, Trujillo gave Trump a classic Cuban guayabera shirt at a Little Havana campaign event. He has also shared the stage with Trump senior counselor Kellyanne Conway at a Miami-Dade Republican Party fundraising dinner.

The Trump administration has committed $21 million in humanitarian aid for Venezuelans who have fled the country and slapped dozens of sanctions against government leaders.

The goal of the sanctions, Trujillo said, is to address the theft of Venezuela’s wealth by the corrupt and encourage the restoring of democracy. But he emphasized that the United States is ready to make changes.

“Sanctions need not be permanent,” Trujillo said. “The United States stands prepared to amend our sanctions posture in response to positive, significant, and sustained behavior changes by the government.”

This story was updated to a comment from Sen. Marco Rubio.