International News

Miami's Exiled Venezuelans Lose Hope as Trump Administration Stalls

Photo by Alona Abbady Martinez
Hope gave way to further disillusionment last week for exiled Venezuelans living in Miami, as word surfaced that the Trump administration's interest in the crisis-stricken country was reportedly waning.

Citing various anonymous officials, a recent Washington Post article detailed President Donald Trump's growing frustration with the intractable situation in Venezuela. What the president first considered a "quick foreign policy win" has become an international quagmire, according to the article, with Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro still clinging to power in the face of economic sanctions and failed attempts by the Venezuelan opposition to convince military leaders to switch sides.

The report, which has been denied by the Trump administration, resonated with exiled Venezuelans in Miami who feel more abandoned by the day.

"At the moment, there isn't any optimism within the Venezuelan community, whether in exile or in Venezuela. It seems like everything has stopped moving," says José Colina, president of Veppex (an acronym for Politically Persecuted Venezuelans in Exile, in Spanish). "The feeling among exiled Venezuelans is that international support for the Venezuelan community has been paralyzed."

Colina is a former Venezuelan military officer who has been in exile for almost 15 years. The Miami-based Veppex, which has locations in various countries, advocates for legal protection from deportation for Venezuelans in the U.S. until the political and economic crisis in Venezuela improves. Colina says his group was busy preparing for massive immigration raids promised by the administration before President Trump unilaterally called them off via tweet over the weekend. According to Veppex figures, there are around 1,300 Venezuelans in Miami who could've been potential targets during the raids.

"It's not right that these Venezuelans could be deported to a country where they'll have their human rights violated," Colina says.

Earlier this month, Trump said he'd consider awarding Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans, but he has yet to act. There are approximately 420,000 Venezuelans living in the U.S., an estimated 200,000 of them residing in South Florida.

Helene Villalonga, president of AMAVEX (Association of Venezuelan Mothers and Women Abroad), says she stopped holding out hope for the Trump administration to help Venezuelans months ago.

"Venezuela is not going to be a defining reelection campaign issue for Trump — and reelection is all that matters to him right now," Villalonga says. "For all the rallies and promises of 'We're with you' to Venezuelans, this administration continues to ignore the migratory crisis Venezuelans in the U.S. face."

Last week, Trump attended a fundraiser at his golf course in Doral, a city known for its large Venezuelan population. The president did not bring up Venezuela once, according to reporting by the Post.

The path to Maduro's ouster seemed speedy only months ago. The U.S. had increased sanctions on the Maduro government and Venezuela's state-owned oil industry. The Trump administration, in its bluster, announced that all options — including military intervention — were on the table. The head of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, was recognized by more than 50 countries as the interim president in place of Maduro, whose days in power seemed numbered.

Today, the possibility of military intervention seems far more remote. The U.S. and the Venezuelan opposition both appear to have overplayed their hands. Efforts to peel military support from Maduro have stalled and ongoing negotiations between his regime and the opposition present the slimmest of chances for resolution. Meanwhile, Venezuela's full-on collapse advances — and the U.S. continues to send Venezuelan asylum seekers back to that very chaos.

The Trump administration's special envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams, denied the Post's reporting in a weekend interview with Miami-based broadcaster EVTV.

"It's simply false that he [Trump] has lost his interest in Venezuela. He speaks of Venezuela frequently," said Abrams. "He wants [to see] the end of this regime, of course… We're waiting, like all Venezuelans, for a change."

Abrams made a weekend appearance with the delegation sent by the Venezuelan opposition to Norway to negotiate a solution to the country's crisis. In its own message about the meeting, the U.S.'s "virtual embassy" tweeted that only Maduro's exit can "open the doors to a brighter future for Venezuela."

Abrams' appointment as special envoy to Venezuela was met with criticism from lawmakers and the press. Abrams is known in Latin America for his work under the Reagan administration to cover up a massacre of an estimated 800 people by a U.S.-trained military group in El Salvador. Among his other claims to foreign policy infamy is a conviction for withholding information from Congress on the Iran-Contra affair.
Veppex's disillusionment isn't limited to the international community, however. Recent allegations of corruption by members of the Venezuelan opposition tasked with handling humanitarian aid funds in Colombia has tested the credibility of the Guaidó camp. According to the charges, which first surfaced in a report by the PanAm Post, two opposition representatives misused funds earmarked for military defectors who had fled to Colombia in support of Guaidó. According to opposition leaders, Colombian police reports indicate the representatives used the funding to pay for parties and clubbing. Last week, Guaidó announced he would be opening an investigation into the allegations.

Villalonga tweeted out her displeasure with the Venezuelan opposition: "For those who ask why I've distanced myself from the struggle, something smelled funny!"
"This doesn't just affect Guaidó’s credibility among the Venezuelan community in Miami, but also in the eyes of the international community," says Colina, who wrote an open letter to Guaidó following the launch of the Venezuelan opposition's investigation.

"Remember that our country has its hopes pinned on you," the letter ends.