WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Donald Trump, in a speech partly intended to be heard by members of the military of Venezuela, called for the end of socialism in that country, saying the United States seeks “a peaceful transition of power but all options are open.”
Trump, in Miami, appealed to Venezuelan soldiers to ignore orders from President Nicolas Maduro and accept the amnesty offer made by the head of the national assembly, Juan Guaido, who is now recognized as Venezuela’s president by the United States and about 50 other countries.
WATCH: Trump speech
“You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out,” Trump warned the soldiers. “You’ll lose everything.”
The White House, ahead of Trump’s speech to the Venezuelan-American community, said, “The United States knows where military officials and their families have money hidden throughout the world.”
Trump also warned members of the Venezuelan military to not block foreign aid intended for the country.
Three U.S. military transport planes loaded with humanitarian aid for Venezuela landed in Cucuta, Colombia on Saturday, adding to the tons food and medicine waiting to cross the border.
The aid sent from the U.S. and many other countries, however, has not yet reached any Venezuelans, but instead sits in towns in Colombia, Brazil and Curacao.
Maduro says the aid is unnecessary and illegal and that to allow it to enter Venezuela would presage a U.S. military invasion.
Venezuela suffers from shortages of food, medicine and other daily necessities and also has the worst inflation rate in the world. Three million people — about 10 percent of the country’s population — have fled the country.
Trump, with hundreds of those who have fled Venezuela and Cuba in the audience, repeatedly linked those two countries, contending Havana’s military is protecting Maduro.
“The ugly alliance between the two dictatorships is coming to a rapid end,” said Trump, decrying Maduro as “a Cuban puppet.”
The president concluded his remarks by predicting that when Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua are no longer under Socialist or Communist regimes, “this will become the first free hemisphere in all of human history.”
Trump’s warnings throughout the speech about socialism, which he declared is “about one thing only — power for the ruling class,” were also intended to rally his political base as he faces a re-election campaign next year.
“There’s no doubt that today’s speech was part of his electoral campaign and he was speaking not to the Venezuelan people but to the voters in Florida. And that is disappointing,” Dany Behar, an economist from Venezuela at the Brookings Institution, tells VOA News.
Anti-Trump activists in the Democratic socialist movement, including a freshman member of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, are galvanizing young and disillusioned voters, who could be a pivotal force in the 2020 presidential election.
“There’s nothing less democratic than socialism,” Trump declared. “America will never be a socialist country.”
Steve Herman is VOA’s White House Bureau Chief.