Venezuela and gun control at the State of the Union elicited South Floridians’ passion

The current political situation in Venezuela was one of the key issues President Donald Trump focused on in his third State of the Union address on Tuesday night. In the speech, his last before the pivotal November elections, the president highlighted the presence of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom the Trump administration recognizes as the “true and legitimate president” of the country over currently embattled president Nicolás Maduro.

“Maduro’s grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken,” said Trump, who also called the Venezuelan president “an illegitimate ruler” and “a tyrant.”

Guaidó, who was seated in the chamber as Trump’s guest, received a prolonged standing ovation when Trump mentioned, “Here this evening, is a very brave man, who carries with him the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all Venezuelans.” In remarks directed at Guaidó, Trump added, “Please take this message back that all Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom.”

While members of the Florida congressional delegation from both sides of the political aisle welcomed Guaidó, their reactions fell along party lines.

“President Trump once again reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for the people of Venezuela, interim President Juan Guaidó and the democratically-elected National Assembly,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio.“The Trump Administration has sent a clear message that the U.S. will continue to stand with the Venezuelan people as they work towards a free and democratic Venezuela.”

South Florida Congresswoman Donna Shalala, a Democrat, said the president is being disingenuous on Venezuela, noting that he has failed to give temporary protected status to the country’s citizens in the United States.

Temporary protective status allows nationals from certain countries to legally remain in the United States for a renewable period of two years. The Trump administration has sought to eliminate the program, a decision that is currently tied up in courts.

South Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz told SFMN the president needs to grant TPS to Venezuelans if he is really committed to helping the Venezuelan community, particularly those who live in the United States – which has seen a dramatic increase in the number of residents from Venezuela.

“I’m glad he got to highlight the plight of the Venezuelan people,” said Wasserman Shultz. “Unfortunately he didn’t mention one of the most important policy changes that he could implement right now, enacting TPS (Temporary Protective Status) for Venezuelans that are here.”

Florida has the largest concentration of Venezuelans in the country and many reside in the South Florida communities of Doral and Weston.

The president is meeting with Guaidó on Wednesday in what the White House described as an opportunity to reaffirm the U.S.’ commitment to support Guaidó as Venezuelan president. However, a photo op with the two leaders was cancelled last minute by the White House after Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah announced he would break with his party and vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial. A photo op would have allowed press to ask the president questions.

Gun control was also an issue mentioned at the State of the Union. When Trump highlighted his “complete commitment” to defend the right to bear arms, a parent of one of the victims of the 2018 Parkland shooting shouted from the balcony and was escorted out by U.S. Capitol Police.

Since the death of his daughter Jaime nearly two years ago, Fred Guttenberg has focused on pushing for gun control legislation. He attended the State of the Union speech as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The hashtag #ImWithFred was trending on Twitter after Guttenberg yelled, “What about my daughter!” when the president said that the Second Amendment “is under siege all across our country.”

Several Democratic legislators stood and applauded Guttenberg before he was ejected.

Adrian Dominguez is a journalism major at FIU, specializing in visual storytelling through photography, videography and writing. Born and raised in Miami, Adrian took a great interest in the visual arts during high school, then decided his focus would be photojournalism and documentary work. He is set to graduate after the spring 2020 semester.