By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House is expected to give details about U.S. President Donald Trump’s Venezuela and Cuba policy on Thursday when national security adviser John Bolton travels to Miami to give an address on Latin America.
Days ahead of high-stakes elections in Florida, home to many migrants from the region, Bolton will deliver his remarks at Freedom Tower, a building where Cuban refugees were welcomed in the 1960s after leaving the Communist-controlled island.
Almost 2 million Venezuelans have fled since 2015, driven out by food and medicine shortages, hyperinflation, and violent crime. Thousands have made their way to south Florida.
Bolton’s speech will come a day after Trump was due to campaign in Florida for Republican candidates in tight Senate and gubernatorial races in the Nov. 6 elections, and a day before former President Barack Obama was scheduled to rally Democrats in Miami.
He is expected to be introduced by longtime Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring from Congress. Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress, has been critical of Trump, but supported the hard line he has taken on Cuba.
Trump has rolled back parts of Obama’s 2014 detente with Cuba, tightening rules on Americans travelling to the island and restricting U.S. companies from doing business there. But Trump has maintained diplomatic relations re-established under Obama with the former Cold War foe.
Trump last month linked Venezuela’s economic collapse to “its Cuban sponsors” in a speech to the United Nations, and Bolton is expected to elaborate on that theme, a senior administration official told reporters earlier this month.
The Trump administration plans to ramp up economic pressure on Cuba’s military and intelligence services, the official said.
The White House also wants to increase pressure on Venezuela. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed working on the issue with Brazil’s new President-elect Jair Bolsonaro.
The U.S. government has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Venezuelan military and political figures close to socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who it blames for trampling on human rights and triggering the country’s economic implosion.
Maduro, who denies limiting political freedoms, has said he is the victim of an “economic war” led by U.S.-backed adversaries.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration had weighed escalating sanctions by targeting Venezuela’s oil sector, but now sees less immediate need to do so given sagging production by the OPEC member.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Mary Milliken and Tom Brown)