U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Venezuelan political situation “a crisis of historic proportions” shortly before he sat down Thursday with Gov. Ron DeSantis in Miami.
But Pompeo gave no hints about whether the Trump administration would grant Venezuelan refugees temporary protected status, or TPS in a phone interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
Pompeo also gave a speech on U.S. foreign policy at the Sumter County Fairgrounds in Bushnell as part of a swing through Florida Thursday.
“I had the opportunity to meet with President Guaido just this past week,” Pompeo said of opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the U.S. and other nations as Venezuela’s president over socialist Nicolas Maduro. “I’ll share with [the roundtable] the conversations that I had with him, and how it is that the United States can work to create opportunity for the Venezuelan people, … [and] convince Maduro that it’s time to go.”
The crisis is the culmination of years of economic downturns under Maduro and previous socialist president Hugo Chavez. Huge food shortages and a 1.3 million percent annual inflation rate due to price controls and lack of food production have led to as many as a third of Venezuelans in the once oil-rich nation eating just one meal a day, according to one study.
“This is the guy who has created so much destruction inside of Venezuela,” he said. “Twenty percent of his population has had to flee the country now, some 6 million people by the end of this year… And the United States is working alongside dozens and dozens of other countries to deliver the opportunity for free and fair elections in Venezuela.”
But proposals to allow Venezuelan refugees to stay in the U.S. by granting them TPS status have been complicated by the Trump administration’s stance against extending asylum protections.
Regarding a possible Venezuelan TPS, Pompeo had previously told the Orlando Sentinel in July, “We’re looking at it … I’m hopeful that we’ll have a decision and a resolution on that in the not too distant future.”
On Thursday, Pompeo would only say “the President's reviewing the policy with respect to that. It’s not a State Department issue, but the president’s reviewing that to decide what's the right way to address the situation.”
In Miami, DeSantis told reporters he was frustrated that Maduro was still in power.
“It’s kind of been frustrating that if you went back a year, you know, a lot of us thought we were on the precipice of really seeing Maduro driven out of power and then having a pathway for free elections and a free society there. And yet, you know, here we are. And Maduro is still there,” DeSantis said, according to the Associated Press.
Another flashpoint in the Caribbean that reverberates in Florida is Cuba. The Trump administration has been scaling back some of the outreach of the Obama years, including cutting flights to most Cuban airports in October.
“President Trump’s focus has been to deny the regime in Cuba the wealth and resources to continue to impose tyranny on the Cuban people,” Pompeo said. “So the policies we’ve taken [include] to try and give rights back to people who had their property confiscated, to shut down the commercial activity that was allowing money to flow into the pockets of the regime and the Cuban leadership."
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The secretary also defended Trump’s actions involving Iran earlier this month, when a U.S. strike targeted and killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad and raised tensions in the region.
While Trump wants to “reduce our footprint” in the region, Soleimani “had the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands. He was traveling throughout the region, he was in Beirut, he was in Damascus, and then on to Baghdad, he was actively plotting to kill more Americans. And we took him from the face of the planet. And it created more safety, more security for the American people.”
Pompeo also said the administration was “thrilled” about the passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which was sent to the president’s desk for his signature this week.