President Donald Trump criticized the current situation in Venezuela under socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro, describing the country as a “mess.”
Trump made the comment during his meeting with Argentine president Mauricio Macri in the White House Thursday, himself a long-time critic of Maduro. Trump is hosting Macri and Argentine First Lady Juliana Awada in the White House for wide-ranging talks on economic and national security issues.
Trump’s recognition of Venezuela as a “mess” to reporters follows numerous criticisms of the socialist country, whose economy has collapsed, leaving most Venezuelans with difficulties in procuring food and necessary goods, over the past four years under Maduro. Trump has openly embraced the Venezuelan opposition, welcoming Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López, to the Oval Office in February. López, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition Popular Will party, is the nation’s most high-profile prisoner of conscience, sentenced to 14 years on charges of “terrorism” after organizing peaceful protests against the regime.
Following the meeting with Tintori and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Trump called for López’s release, writing in a tweet that Maduro should “let him out of prison immediately.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
Under Trump, the U.S. Treasury has also expanded sanctions on high-ranking Venezuelan socialist officials, most notably Vice President Tareck El Aissami. In February, the Treasury department branded El Aissami a “specially designated narcotics trafficker” under the Kingpin Act, freezing his U.S. assets and that of an assistant over alleged ties to a variety of drug trafficking operations and terrorist groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Hezbollah.
Trump’s remarks, a reminder to the international community that the White House remains concerned about Venezuela, come amidst an increasingly critical situation in that country, as the opposition organize mass marches against the socialist regime on a daily basis. In addition to political repression and police brutality, the socialist regime has left the country deprived of basic resources such as food, power, and medicine.
In the past two weeks, twenty anti-government protesters were killed as authorities responded violently to civil unrest in the streets of Caracas, using tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue protesters. Some of those killed were minors, and, in one incident, an 87-year-old woman died in her home asphyxiated by the tear gas fumes coming through her window.
While the Trump administration has maintained a clear stance against the Venezuelan socialist regime, Maduro has tried to gain favor with the new administration, claiming in March that there would be “surprises” in their relationship, while lauding “Comrade Trump” for offering Venezuela food “at a good price.”
Maduro also tried sending a message of cooperation to Donald Trump in English, although reporters failed to confirm what the message was.
Like Trump, Macri has been a consistent critic of Maduro’s. The center-right Macri succeeded a close ally of the Venezuelan Bolivarian socialists, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as president following his victory in the first run-off presidential election in that country’s history. He has repeatedly called for free and fair elections in Venezuela, and has described Maduro as a “dictator with no respect for human rights.” Maduro, in turn, responded by describing Macri as a “thief and a bandit.”