Trending

Newsletter

Rubio’s Tough Talk on Venezuela Will Electrify 2016 Campaign

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Apr 17, 2015, 11:26 am
El precandidato Republicano ha sido el que se ha expresado en términos más claros contra el chavismo en la campaña electoral estadounidense (Solo-Click)
The Republican presidential contender has stood out for his strong stance against human-rights abuses in Venezuela. (Solo-Click)

EspañolWith barely five years of experience of US national politics under his belt, Senator Marco Rubio recently announced his decision to stand for the GOP nomination for the White House in 2016. At 43, he’s the second Latino senator to throw his hat into the US presidential race in history.

Apart from his enormous personal charisma and a striking political trajectory that some compare to Barack Obama, he brings with him his Latino origins — in particular, his upbringing by Cuban migrant parents of a humble background, the perfect personification of the “American dream.”

Since he was elected Senator for Florida in 2011, propelled by the insurgent Tea Party, Rubio’s conservative speeches have tended to focus on permanent confrontation with President Obama over his various rulings in domestic and international politics.

The young senator seeks to position himself as the Republican candidate who defends the American dream most — it’s no coincidence that he launched his candidacy in Miami’s Freedom Tower, a building that symbolizes the US identity as a land of opportunity.

Rubio also presents himself as the strongest on foreign policy issues and a great defender of Western democracy, which conservatives believe will be a defining theme both in the primaries and nationwide polls. In this line, he’s been particularly scathing of the dialogue between the Obama administration, Cuba, and Iran, as well as the government’s approach to tackling the Islamic State terrorist group.

He has also dedicated his efforts to denouncing the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro. When, already afflicted by cancer in October 2012, Chávez sought to make the position of president an eternal one, Rubio spoke out: “The Venezuelan people now have an opportunity to turn the page on one of the darkest periods in its history and embark on a new, albeit difficult, path to restore the rule of law, democratic principles, security and free enterprise system in a nation that deserves so much better than the socialist disaster of the past 14 years.”

However, Chávez’s death early the following year didn’t remove Rubio’s focus on Venezuela. On the contrary, the repressive actions begun by the Maduro regime to confront the protests backed by civil-society groups and students in 2014 were condemned in ever more decided terms by the Florida legislator. Rubio has never shied away from denouncing Venezuela’s lack of basic freedoms, nor the harassment and imprisonment of opposition politicians that has fast become the distinctive international brand of the regime.

Thus, for example, Rubio branded the arbitrary and illegal arrest of the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma as “the latest example of the Maduro regime’s cowardly and paranoid oppression of the Venezuelan people.” He further called on the Obama administration to take firmer action in a press release: “Mayor Ledezma’s arrest is only further proof that Nicolás Maduro will stop at nothing to secure his tyrannical rule and silence the Venezuelan people’s demand for a democratic and free future.”

Maduro himself has also been keeping tabs on Rubio. The Chavista hasn’t forgotten that it was the US Senator, together with President of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menéndez, who presented a bill which the Senate finally approved in December 2014, having been stagnating since May that year, in defense of human rights and civil society in Venezuela.

After the latest executive order by Obama, freezing the US visas, bank accounts, and assets of seven officials in Maduro’s government for flagrant violations of human rights, the Venezuelan leader decided not only to impose visa restrictions on US citizens, but to expressly prohibit Rubio and other politicians such as George W. Bush, Ileana Ros, Dick Cheney, and Menéndez, from entering Venezuela. Maduro also accused them in turn of being terrorists and violators of human rights.

Maduro didn’t have to wait long for a forceful answer from Rubio: “To be banned by a dictator like Nicolas Maduro is, to me, a badge of honor,” he responded.

Rubio remains a long way from securing the Republican Party nomination — the race has barely begun, and the man most likely to prove his biggest rival, Jeb Bush, is yet to officially announce his candidacy — to say nothing of becoming the next occupant of the White House. Yet from here on in, an ever more bitter confrontation between Maduro and Rubio is likely to define and energize the electoral campaigns that both are engaged in, with legislative polls this year in Venezuela and the US presidential ballot in the next.

The US campaigning season is particularly likely to be injected with the fire of Rubio’s confrontation of Maduro: none of the other Republican contenders, still less the champion of the Democratic Party Hillary Clinton, have been as firm or clear in their stance against the Cuban-backed, Chavista regime in Venezuela as Rubio.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.