Op-Ed

Even with Bolton out of the picture, Trump won’t go easy on Cuba and Venezuela | Opinion

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton says he offered to resign; President Trump says he was fired.
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton says he offered to resign; President Trump says he was fired. AP

Floridians need not worry: The Trump administration will continue its pressure campaign against the rogue regimes in Cuba and Venezuela — even without former National Security Adviser John Bolton. The campaign is a sound policy based on long-standing American principles.

As the Herald’s Editorial Board recently noted, the hawkish adviser’s departure from the Trump administration might feel like a blow to Venezuelans hoping to bring freedom to their country. Bolton was a staunch advocate for Cubans and Venezuelans dispossessed of their homelands, and his presence in the White House, undoubtedly, was reassuring to some freedom-loving expatriates.

Bolton made overtures to Venezuelan opposition National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, whom the United States has recognized as that country’s legitimate leader, and appeared as the architect of a sanctions policy designed to squeeze the totalitarian government of dictator Nicolás Maduro.

In Miami, Bolton memorably labeled the communist governments of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua the “Troika of Tyranny,” a sign of his dedication to bringing justice to those who have fled these oppressive regimes as well as those who continue to live under their yoke.

But bringing justice and positive change to Cuba and Venezuela was not just a Bolton priority; it has always been — and still remains — a top Trump administration priority. This administration had taken measures to break the Troika’s despotic governments long before John Bolton was appointed national security adviser. Bolton was a strong champion of the policy, but he was hardly the only one.

As The Wall Street Journal reported several months ago, President Trump took a hardline stance against the dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela from the earliest days of his presidency. According to a former Obama aide, Trump asked about reversing President Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba on his second day in office. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin placed sanctions against former Venezuelan vice president and noted narco-state operative Tareck el Aissami on the very day he was sworn into office. All of that occurred long before Bolton became the national security adviser in 2018.

The Trump administration will continue to pressure Cuba and Venezuela in the weeks and months to come, as the president made clear shortly after Bolton’s ouster.

Trump reassured a concerned Sen. Marco Rubio that, even after Bolton’s departure, he remains committed to the cause of freedom for Venezuela. In fact, the president asserted that he actually holds more aggressive views toward Venezuela than Bolton. The clear takeaway is that defending Venezuelans has always been the president’s prerogative, and not the unique domain of his national security adviser.

The same goes for Cuba, which enjoyed massive sanctions relief under the Obama administration despite the fact that it remains a brutal communist dictatorship.

The Cuban government is now reeling from a new round of sanctions imposed by Trump, causing the largest fuel shortage the island nation has experienced since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Widespread blackouts are expected, and the regime risks being thrown into chaos.

Cuban officials certainly don’t expect the pressure to be lifted now that Bolton is out of office. President Miguel Díaz-Canel took to the national airwaves to tell Cubans that they should view the shortages as a “training exercise.” Those are not the words of a man who thinks he’s made it through the storm; they’re the words of a man who expects more economic pain to come.

The Trump administration demonstrated its commitment to Cubans and Venezuelans long before John Bolton came along and will continue to do so now that he’s gone. Bolton’s job was to carry out the president’s foreign-policy agenda, and now that job will fall to Robert O’Brien.

Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer is a retired senior intelligence operations officer. Through his work as president of the London Center for Policy Research, Shaffer interacts with and advises, on a policy level, the White House, Pentagon and Congress.

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