President Donald Trump promised his administration would continue to be “very tough” of the communist regime of Cuba and its Venezuelan proxy in an exclusive Spanish-language interview with Univisión during his visit to Hialeah, Florida, on Monday.
Trump visited Hialeah—a working class, majority Cuban-American community—to promote job creation in the country’s Latin American community.
Sitting down with Univisión 23’s Ninoska Pérez Castellón, Trump agreed with the interviewer that the promotion of CIA director Mike Pompeo to the Secretary of State position and the replacement of H.R. McMaster with new National Security Advisor John Bolton were a sign that his administration was preparing to get tougher on human rights violators.
“John has worked very well, is very in favor of the struggle in Cuba and Venezuela for justice,” Trump told Pérez. “The governments have been very unjust to the people there, as you know. [Former President Barack] Obama gave it all up, I have recovered that. We have been very tough on Cuba because we want the people to have freedom.”
Trump lamented that many Americans “don’t even know” the suffering of the Cuban people and the diaspora following the 1959 revolution, and expressed gratitude for the support that the largely conservative Cuban- and Venezuelan-American communities. “As you know, I have great support from the Cuban people here, and from the Venezuelans, we have been very strong regarding Venezuela.”
“We are in the process of doing even more,” Trump promised. “We have this very much under control.”
President Trump has been consistent for decades in supporting the Cuban exile community. While he has not helped Cuban refugees fleeing political persecution stay legally in the United States—Trump has not overturned President Obama’s repeal of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which some Cubans alleged was a move to punish Cubans for supporting Trump—he has delivered a variety of speeches promising support for the community.
The Trump administration more broadly has repeatedly promised support for both victims of the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes.
Last weekend, speaking at the Summit of the Americas, Vice President Mike Pence urged attendees—of which President Trump was not one—to help bring about regime change in both countries.
“As we speak, a tired communist regime continues to impoverish its people and deny their most fundamental rights in Cuba,” Pence said. “The Castro regime has systematically sapped the wealth of a great nation and stolen the lives of a proud people. Our administration has taken decisive action to stand with the Cuban people, and stand up to their oppressors.”
“No longer will the United States fund Cuba’s military, security and intelligence services—the core of that despotic regime. And the United States will continue to support the Cuban people as they stand and call for freedom,” he vowed.
Of Venezuela, Pence said, “In Venezuela, as in Cuba, the tragedy of tyranny is on full display. As this body knows well, Venezuela was one of our hemisphere’s richest nations once, and not too long ago. It is now among the poorest.”
The Cuban regime has currently begun a process to replace Raúl Castro in the largely ceremonial post of “president,” while the dictator will remain the head of the Communist Party, constitutionally the most powerful political entity in the country. The U.S. State Department expressed pessimism at the idea that the transition will result in greater freedom for the Cuban people.
“As we watch what’s taken place at the Cuba national assembly, we certainly see that that’s not a democratic transition. So when we see that something is not a democratic transition, that’s of great concern to us,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters during a regular press briefing on Tuesday. “We would like citizens to be able to have a say in their political outcomes, and this certainly does not seem like regular folks will have a say.”
“We hope that Cuba’s new president will listen to the Cuban people. We’re not sure that that’s going to happen,” Nauert added.
The likely successor to Raúl Castro is current Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, a hardline communist who has openly admitted to keeping opposition voices out of the nation’s legislature and condemned moves to improve relations with the United States.
In addition to recent statements from Trump officials, the Trump National Security Strategy (NSS) specifically identified Cuba and Venezuela as threats.
“In Venezuela and Cuba, governments cling to anachronistic leftist authoritarian models that continue to fail their people,” the NSS warned. “Competitors have found operating space in the hemisphere. China seeks to pull the region into its orbit through state-led investments and loans. Russia continues its failed politics of the Cold War by bolstering its radical Cuban allies as Cuba continues to repress its citizens.”
Trump’s largest event addressing the Cuban and Venezuelan crises occurred last year in Miami, where he announced a complete pivot away from President Obama’s conciliatory policies towards the Castro regime. At that event, Trump made sure to place prominent victims of Havana’s violent policies front and center, including the families of the U.S. citizens killed by Cuban pilots in 1994 while working for Brothers to the Rescue, an independent group conducting rescue operations for Cubans attemping to reach the United States via makeshift rafts.