Trump offered strong backing for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who the United States, many of Venezuela's neighbors and most Western countries have recognized as interim president of Venezuela. But Maduro, who won a second term last year in an election that critics denounced as a sham, retains the backing of Russia and China and control of Venezuelan state institutions including the security services.
Trump cautioned Venezuelan armed forces not to harm Guaido or other opposition politicians, urged them to accept the National Assembly leader's offer of amnesty and demanded that they allow in food, medicine and other supplies. The United States has sent tons of aid that is being stockpiled on Colombia's border with Venezuela, but Maduro has refused to let it in.
Guaido, who invoked constitutional provisions to declare himself the country's leader last month, has said that aid will enter Venezuela on Saturday. He has provided no details on how that will happen. Maduro calls the aid a U.S.-orchestrated show and denies any crisis despite many Venezuelans' scant access to food and medicine.
“We seek a peaceful transition of power but all options are open," Trump said. It was a further hint of Trump's repeated insistence that military options remain on the table, though most Latin America experts believe such action is unlikely. The United States has had direct communications with members of Venezuela's military urging them to abandon Maduro, a senior White House official told Reuters this month, and Trump's aides have openly predicted more defections.
But so far few military officers have turned against Maduro. A source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks where many officers are suspected of benefiting from corruption and drug trafficking.
Trump used his speech at Florida International University to deliver a full-throated condemnation of socialism, saying it was "dying" across the Western Hemisphere, and branded Maduro a "puppet" of communist-ruled Cuba. His enthusiastic crowd at the campaign-style event included many exiles from Cuba and Venezuela.
Trump wants to boost support among Florida's Hispanic voters as he looks ahead to his re-election campaign in 2020, when Florida is again expected to be an important swing state. (Reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Tom Brown and Howard Goller)