CARACAS, VENEZUELA — On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to a crowd at the Florida International University about Venezuela’s current political turmoil, and reaffirmed his support for Juan Guaidó as the Latin American country’s legitimate leader.
There, he talked about the “troika of tyranny” between Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua (as described by his National Security Advisor John Bolton). Trump once again called the members of the Maduro government to “set your country free,” thanked exiled politician David Smolansky while mispronouncing his name, and repeatedly remarked about socialism, both in Latin America and in the United States.
“America will never be a socialist country,” he stated. Never mind that both Smolansky and Guaidó belong to a party affiliated to Socialist International, the crowd of mostly Venezuelan exiles was highly receptive of the speech.
But back in Venezuela, the response of those who managed to watch the full speech wasn’t as supportive. Latino Rebels spoke with some of them:
“I expected something different,” said Coromoto, a 50 year-old mother of two who works at a government ministry. Although she claims to have supported the opposition ever since Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, she prefers to keep politics out of her life and simply shows her support in the polls.
For her, Trump’s speech was unfocused and didn’t add anything new, though she enjoyed some moments, such as Trump calling Maduro “a Cuban puppet.”
She was confused by the repeated warns about socialism in the U.S. “The other ones, the Democrats, are they socialists? They don’t seem socialists to me. Hillary Clinton doesn’t strike me as one.” Ultimately, though she supports the efforts of Trump and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Coromoto isn’t sold on them: “They both look like, well, a pair of grifters.”
“I’m a bit angry with Obama because, looking back, his management of Venezuela and Cuba was weak,” says Juan, a young doctor in the rural parts of the Andean state of Mérida. There, he routinely has to work with little resources and see people suffer from illnesses that a few years ago were easily preventable in the country.
“I don’t identify with Republican values but they are the ones who know how to handle communist dictators,” Juan added. He admitted that he used to sympathize with the Democrats and be suspicious of Trump but after feeling disappointed with their actions, his view has changed.
“I still think Trump is a dangerous populist and I don’t agree with most of his policies, but he’s the right man for the job,” he said.
If social media is to be believed, the highlight of the speech for many Venezuelans was the appearance of Óscar Pérez’s mom.
Donald Trump sube a la tarima a la mamá de Oscar Pérez. Cosa que no hizo ningún "dirigente" del entramado MUD-FA.
Por dios. Debería darnos vergüenza.
A todos. A mi me da vergüenza.
Si. Me da vergüenza.
— Daniel Lara Farías (@DLaraF) February 18, 2019
Al que le parezca poco las muertes que van no ha entendido nada, hasta Trump lo entendió y lo graficó con la madre de Oscar Pérez hoy. https://t.co/PTrQ3iHkWQ
— Julio Jiménez Gédler (@Juliococo) February 19, 2019
La mamá de Oscar Pérez fue a buscar justicia en EE.UU. y el propio Trump la atendió. Chavistas de mierda (y me disculpan el lenguaje) ¿saben lo que eso significa, verdad?
Conciudadano, ahora que estamos cerca de la libertad no permitamos ningún gobierno de transición mixto. pic.twitter.com/jis72ao2wW
— Miguel Fontán™ (@MiguelFontan) February 18, 2019
El hecho que @realDonaldTrump avale a OSCAR PÉREZ y no a cualquiera del "Chavismo Originario" es una línea muy directa de lo que él y Occidente quiere.
Creo que es un mensaje brutal muchos, especialmente a los "políticos" venezolanos
— Don Trumpiniano (@DonCorneliano2) February 19, 2019
Interesante que ayer Trump no tendió la mano al chavismo originario. Se la tendió a la mamá de Oscar Pérez.
Aún tengo claro en mi memoria como José Guerra casi que le da un hijo a Rodríguez Torres y Cesar Miguel en su programa de radio.
A ella jamás
Trump mando mensaje a todos
— Alberto Barradas (@Psicovivir) February 19, 2019
Este discurso: https://t.co/jDbh6XVlm2 es una obra maestra! @realDonaldTrump se propuso una América libre de tiranías, y del cáncer que las produce: el Socialismo. Su determinación es irreversible. Sus palabras de oro y diamantes, coronan con el homenaje a Óscar Pérez. Bravo!!!
— Juan C. Sosa Azpúrua (@jcsosazpurua) February 18, 2019
Trump, si, Donald Trump subió al podio a la mamá de Óscar Perez, ¿quiénes de los dirigentes opositores hicieron eso, quiénes?
— Naisarcástica (@NaiSarcastica) February 18, 2019
Pérez was an officer in Venezuela’s Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation Corps (roughly the country’s equivalent of the FBI) and a propagandistic action movie hero who, in one of the most bizarre incidents of the 2017 protests, rebelled against Maduro’s government, hijacked a chopper, and started to throw grenades against the Supreme Court.
The opposition leadership quickly condemned the event. Pérez, meanwhile, hid several months in the mountains surrounding Caracas, until he was he was found and shot down by security forces, which he live-streamed on Instagram. Conflicting reports of whether or not he surrendered led Pérez to quickly become a martyr for many.
For some Venezuelans, the message is clear: while mainstream opposition reaches out to dissident Chavistas and talks about amnesty, Trump reaches out to a grieving mother and talks about justice.
“Bringing Óscar Pérez’s mom is only a melodramatic touch he has to add to his populist show to be liked by the Venezuelan people. Look how everyone is now kissing his ass and worshipping his words,” said Karen, 27, who lives in downtown Caracas and whose main income consist on speaking with English-speaking customers for a software company.
She thinks Trump tries to manipulate Venezuela’s situation to frame himself as the hero.
“He wants to save Venezuelans because so? And yet, he let them revoke applications of political asylum,” she added.
Yet, despite calling Trump “repulsive” and “Machiavellian,” Karen hopes the current process won’t be in vain: “My sincerest wish is that all this is truly for a good reason and we can get out of this horrible nightmare.”
“I dislike people who get angry and say ‘The United States only wants to take away Venezuela’s oil.’ It’s clear they are interested in that, but also, they are willing to pay for it. Unlike Cuba, where we only got some worthless shitty doctors,” says Rosa, a 20-year-old college student who has spent her whole life under the Bolivarian Revolution.
Named after Hugo Chávez’s oldest daughter, Rosa is proud of being Black and is deeply critical of racism in the U.S. and in Venezuela, but she doesn’t have any sympathy for Chavismo.
“If [oil is] the cost of our freedom, I’m more than willing to pay that,” she noted.
With the Saturday February 23 set as the date when humanitarian aid will cross the country’s border, Venezuela’s future could be defined in the next few days.
José González Vargas is a Venezuelan journalist who has written for several outlets, including Latino USA, Latino Rebels, Caracas Chronicles and Into. He tweets from @Maxmordon.