John Bolton had a reputation as the hawk in Trump’s circle of national security advisers. And no one with Trump’s ear promoted the administration’s mission to end the regime of Venezuela’s illegitimate leader, Nicólas Maduro, more than Bolton.
Now, Bolton’s exit might signal a loosening of the financial and political grip he was trying to engineer - with little success so far.
For the thousands of Venezuelan exiles living in South Florida, who had seen unprecedented U.S. support for their cause, Bolton’s departure might appear the loss of a champion. Let’s hope they’re wrong. Let’s hope someone else picks up the torch to end the rule of an unscrupulous dictator who has run his country into the ground. Bolton had been taking the counsel of Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, two Venezuela hardliners who were surprised by Bolton’s sudden departure. Scott said he was supposed to meet with Bolton Tuesday afternoon for the latest plans in the ongoing effort by Florida Republicans to squeeze the Venezuelan leader out of power.
But now, the U.S. - Venezuela standoff is a question mark.
And Bolton’s departure prompted the U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, to announce that the U.S. government is not “closer” to a military intervention in Venezuela, but warned that Colombia would have full American support in case of an attack by terrorist groups or the Venezuelan armed forces, he told reporters.
Rubio said he wasn’t sure what Bolton’s ouster meant for Venezuela policy eight months after the U.S. recognized Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader and began imposing sanctions on Maduro’s inner circle. But Maduro remains in control and the country remains in a deep economic crisis with millions of Venezuelans fleeing their country, mainly into neighboring Colombia.
Republicans believe that Trump’s reelection in 2020 largely depends on Florida, home to thousands of Venezuelans and Cubans who have fled repressive socialist and communist regimes. Trump’s blasting of Maduro dovetails into the presidents anti-socialism campaign mantra.
True, it seems that Bolton promised the president that change would be easy in Venezuela, with a few targeted tactics, like accepting Guaidó as the country’s legitimate president. Another strategy included offering human aid at the border between Colombia and Venezuela, aid that was set on fire by Maduro’s troops. Still another tactic resulted in failure, the belief that the Venezuelan military would succeed in a revolt against Maduro.
Despite these results, devastating to hopeful Venezuelans, one official cautioned against assuming that, with Bolton gone, the administration will make any sudden policy shifts. Let’s hope that’s true.