Main menu

U.S. 2020: Joe Biden and Donald Trump on Venezuela

Juan Guaidó in Miami. (AP)

Juan Guaidó in Miami. (AP)

September 02, 2020

Foreign policy often plays a secondary role in a U.S. presidential platform. But Venezuela is mentioned in the second sentence of U.S. President Donald Trump’s reelection pledge as an example he gives of the failures of socialism.

And the issue of Venezuela galvanizes the Latino population in few states like it does in Florida, where Trump kicked off his reelection campaign in June 2019. But the Sunshine State is key for either candidate to win in November. As one Republican strategist told The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer, “If you solve the Venezuela problem, you get three for the price of one…You’ll make the Colombians, Nicaraguans, and Cubans in Florida very happy.” At his third State of the Union address on February 4, one of Trump’s guests of honor was Juan Guaidó. The 37-year-old, now in his second year as interim president of Venezuela, received a bipartisan standing ovation from the U.S. Congress.

Where the Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden stands on policy and positions toward Caracas is no fringe issue, either, if he wants to win Florida on the road to the White House. While a myriad of issues is swirling in a tumultuous 2020 election season, it is notable that Biden won his first primary contest (South Carolina) six days after an interview with early frontrunner for the Democratic nomination Bernie Sanders aired on February 23 in which the Vermont senator was less than critical of the late chavista ally Fidel Castro. Biden went on to overtake Sanders in national polls in early March.

As such, U.S. policy toward Venezuela—especially opposition to Nicolás Maduro and support of Guaidó—is one of the few policy areas with support on both sides of the aisle in Congress, especially among the Florida caucus. Trump won Florida in 2016 with 49.1 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 47.8 percent. Biden led the incumbent by an average of 3.7 points in late summer 2020 Florida polls, according to Real Clear Politics.

In Venezuela, legislative elections are scheduled for December 6, and Guaidó’s interim presidency is based constitutionally on his role as president of the National Assembly. Starting in June, however, the Maduro regime orchestrated moves to disqualify party leaders, install its own supporters into key roles in three major opposition parties—including Guaidó’s—and stack the National Electoral Council with chavista-friendly officials. The Organization of American States (OAS) passed a June 26 resolution rejecting the moves and therein the legitimacy of the December elections. 

Meanwhile, 96 percent of families in Venezuela were living in poverty at the close of 2019, including 80 percent in extreme poverty, according to a national survey released by a local university on July 7. Moreover, the country is under-equipped for the COVID-19 pandemic, as barely half of virus-dedicated hospitals have regular water supply

Here is where the presidential rivals stand on U.S. policy toward Venezuela.

This article was originally published on July 9, 2020 and has since been updated.

Joe Biden

On Guaidó

On TPS

  • Biden says that, if elected, he will extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelans “seeking relief from the humanitarian crisis brought on by the Maduro regime.” TPS grants legal status to U.S.-based foreign nationals for limited periods—frequently subject to extensions—in cases of armed conflicts or natural disasters in their home countries. There were 395,000 Venezuelans in the United States in 2018, of whom about 200,000 Venezuelans would be eligible for TPS, per the Congressional Budget Office. 
  • In March 2020, Biden also told Americas Quarterly of his intention to extend TPS to Venezuelans, saying, “The international community also has a responsibility to help Venezuela’s neighbors like Colombia to manage the grave humanitarian crisis created by the millions of Venezuelan migrants who’ve fled the country.”

On sanctions

On Maduro

  • The party platform also states that the best way to restore democracy to Venezuela is through “smart pressure and effective diplomacy.” 
  • In March 2020, Biden told Americas Quarterly,Maduro is a dictator, plain and simple.” But he added that Washington “should not be in the business of regime change” but rather “to press for a democratic outcome through free and fair elections, and to help the Venezuelan people rebuild their country.”
  • In July 2019, Biden said that the Maduro regime uses dialogue “as a tactic to delay action and concentrate power.”
  • In March 2014 the OAS passed, with 29 votes in favor and the United States as one of only three objections, a resolution in “solidarity” with the year-old Maduro administration. At the time, then-Vice President Biden called the situation in Venezuela “alarming,” discredited the possibility of a “genuine dialogue,” and said the situation in Venezuela reminded him of “previous eras, when strongmen governed through violence and oppression … and human rights, hyperinflation, scarcity, and grinding poverty wrought havoc on the people of the hemisphere.” 
  • Also in 2014, Biden also launched an initiative to bolster Caribbean countries’ energy security as a way to lessen their reliance on Caracas as PetroCaribe financing dwindled. 

Donald Trump

On Guaidó

On TPS

  • The Trump administration quashed a bipartisan congressional effort to grant TPS to Venezuelans in the United States in July 2019. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli wrote then that while the administration “continues to monitor” the situation in Venezuela that there “may be other immigration relief measures available.” He also said the administration is reluctant in general to grant TPS to new groups since courts had denied the president’s previous attempts to end it for others, thus making TPS a permanent situation rather than a temporary one. 
  • Still, some think the president could grant TPS to Venezuelans in the months leading up to the November general election as a way to carve out an edge in a must-win state. One in every three Venezuelans in the United States arrived after 2015, and 53 percent of all U.S.-based Venezuelans are in Florida.

On sanctions

On Maduro

  • In a June 19 interview with Axios, Trump said he “would maybe think about” meeting with Maduro, as he’s “never opposed to meetings” in general. The comments are in line with September 2018 remarks, when the president said he’d “certainly be open” to meeting with the de facto leader as he likes to keep “all options on the table” (including military intervention, speech Biden referred to as “saber rattling”). Also in the Axios interview, the president said he could have lived “with…or without” the decision to recognize Guaidó. The Washington Post reported that Florida Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott “gently took issue” and reaffirmed support for Guaidó with the president. Trump then tweeted on June 22 that he would only meet with Maduro if it were to negotiate the Venezuelan leader’s departure from office.
  • Trump’s remarks underscored the account presented by former National Security Adviser John Bolton in a new book that Trump had cooled on Guaidó and thought he was “weak,” while Maduro was “tough.” Members of the Trump administration widely denounced Bolton’s account of his time in office, though in a September 2019 tweet, Trump wrote that, “In fact, my views on Venezuela, and especially Cuba, were far stronger than those of John Bolton. He was holding me back!”