Trump’s Venezuela policy is also good 2020 politics in key state of Florida – USA TODAY

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Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he doesn’t expect U.S. consumers to see higher prices at the gas pumps as a result of new sanctions announced Monday on Venezuela. (Jan. 28) AP

WASHINGTON聽鈥 Embattled Venezuelan聽President Nicol谩s聽Maduro聽might not be listening Friday when Vice President Mike Pence gives a microphone to exiled Venezuelans living in South Florida.

But Pence’s trip to Miami,聽to showcase the administration’s hard-line efforts to oust Maduro,聽is likely to resonate with an聽all-important bloc of Latino voters in the nation’s largest swing state.

And that could help another embattled president: Donald Trump.

No Republican presidential candidate has won the White House in nearly a century聽without carrying Florida聽鈥 a state also known for its razor-thin election margins.

“It鈥檚 very hard to see a scenario where the president gets re-elected without winning Florida,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale who ran Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign in Florida.

Trump’s tough stance on Maduro is very popular in Florida among that state鈥檚 Cuban and Venezuelan populations, which account for more than 1.5 million of the state’s 21 million residents.It also resonates with the Colombian community, which is growing in political importance in Florida’s most populous county: Miami-Dade.

“Although I don’t think this is the primary motivation for the (Trump administration’s) policy, it is definitely an advantage,” said聽Dario Moreno, professor of political science at Florida International University and an expert on Florida and Cuban-American politics.

In 2016, Trump lost Miami-Dade County by a bigger margin than did GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who lives in West Miami.聽Nearly all of the approximately 150,000 voters who split their ticket between Rubio and Hillary Clinton were Latinos, according to Moreno.

“And that could easily move to either the Republican column or easily stay in the Democratic column”聽in 2020, he said.聽

Trump and his top advisers have clearly stated they are considering 鈥渁ll options鈥 to force Maduro out and聽support opposition leader聽Juan Guaido, headof Venezuela鈥檚 National Assembly, who has declared himself interim president.

Venezuelans are suffering from a spiraling economic and humanitarian crisis. The dire conditions have prompted聽at least 3 million Venezuelans聽to flee their homeland, creating a refugee crisis in the region.

Cuban-Americans are very attuned to the Venezuelan crisis because they see it as a replay聽in many ways聽of what they went through with Fidel聽Castro聽鈥 a repressive ruler implementing a ruinous economic policy. The close diplomatic relationship between Cuba and Venezuela adds to their ire.聽聽

“If you鈥檙e hitting Cuba hard, you鈥檙e also hurting Venezuela and vice versa,鈥 said Frank O. Mora,聽director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Florida International University.聽

Trump is not going to win the Hispanic vote in Florida, Schale said. But he can grow his share of the vote by focusing on issues important to segments of the population.

“For Republicans, it’s more about finding places where they can impact the margins,” he said.

Cuba has been a long and fervent supporter of Venezuela鈥檚 socialist leaders, starting with Hugo Chavez鈥 ascension to power in 1999 and extending through Maduro鈥檚 presidency. Former Cuban President Fidel Castro was extremely close to Chavez; the Venezuelan revolutionary saw Castro as a father figure and Castro helped groom Maduro to succeed Chavez when the latter became ill with cancer.

Cuba鈥檚 current president, Miguel D铆az-Canel, has continued the close ties, even if he and Maduro do not share the same deep friendship.

D铆az-Canel flew to Caracas to celebrate Maduro鈥檚 second inauguration in January, ignoring the allegations of fraud and intimidation that have clouded the Venezuelan leader鈥檚 claim to power. After Trump鈥檚 recognition of Guaido as Venezuela鈥檚 legitimate leader, D铆az-Canel accused the U.S. of trying to mount a 鈥渃oup d鈥檈tat鈥 and promised to support Maduro amid the escalating power struggle.

As they press for Maduro鈥檚 ouster, top Trump administration officials and conservatives in Congress have also played up the connection between the socialist governments.

鈥淣o regime has done more to sustain the nightmarish condition of the Venezuelan people than the regime in Havana,鈥 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a speech at the United Nations last weekend.

鈥淔or years, Cuban security and intelligence thugs, invited into Venezuela by Maduro himself and those around him, have sustained this illegitimate rule,鈥 he said. 鈥淭hey have trained Maduro鈥檚 security and intelligence henchmen in Cuba鈥檚 own worst practices 鈥 Let鈥檚 be crystal clear: the foreign power meddling in Venezuela today is Cuba.鈥

When Maduro鈥檚 forces temporarily detained Guaido earlier this year, Rubio 鈥 a Cuban-American who has been pressing Trump for months to stand up to the Maduro regime and what he considers its聽litany of human rights abuses聽鈥撀爉ade a similar reference to allegations that Cuba has trained and infiltrated Venezuela’s security forces.

Maduro鈥檚 intelligence forces are 鈥渃ontrolled & directed by experienced oppressors sent by #Cuba & these kinds of tactics are textbook methods used by Cuban regime,鈥聽tweeted Rubio, who is聽expected to participate in Pence’s Miami event Friday.

鈥淭hese are all linked and so for the administration to act tough and talk tough (on Venezuela) is popular in South Florida,鈥 said Mora, who served as deputy assistant defense secretary for the Western Hemisphere during the Obama administration. 鈥淎nd South Florida is one of the few areas or regions of the country in which foreign policy is a domestic political factor in how people vote.鈥

So it’s no wonder Pence will be in Miami聽on Friday, meeting with members of the Venezuelan exile community at Iglesia Doral聽Jesus Worship Center, along with Carlos Vecchio the Venezuelan diplomat representing Guaido in the U.S.聽

While the administration’s actions against Maduro’s government have stepped up since Maduro was sworn in for a second term in an election marred by allegation of fraud,聽Pence has long been active on the issue.

Venezuela was a top focus of Pence鈥檚 2017 and 2018 trips to South and Central America. He met with displaced Venezuelans in Colombia and Brazil, encouraged neighboring countries to put pressure on Maduro鈥檚 government, and accused the 鈥渄ictator鈥 of violently suppressing those who questioned his regime.

Maduro responded by calling Pence a 鈥減oisonous viper鈥 who聽makes him聽stronger when he inserts himself into Venezuelan affairs.

If that’s true, both Maduro and Trump will benefit from Friday’s event in Florida.聽

Contributing: Ledyard King and Alan Gomez.

More: Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro says any US invasion would be worse than ‘Vietnam’

More: Oil sanctions. Deadly violence. Dire economy. How the Venezuelan crisis could affect US

More: John Bolton’s notes on ‘5,000 troops to Colombia’ spark speculation about military intervention in Venezuela

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