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President Trump Meets with Latin American Leaders on Venezuela

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President Trump poses for a photo with Brazilian President Michel Temer at a working dinner in New York to discuss the crisis in Venezuela.

Calling the situation "completely unacceptable," President Trump met with the leaders of Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Panama to discuss the growing crisis in Venezuela.

President Donald Trump and members of his cabinet hosted the leaders of four Latin American nations Monday night at a working dinner in New York to discuss the growing crisis in Venezuela.  In his remarks, President Trump described how the situation under Nicolas Maduro has worsened, thanked the leaders for condemning the regime and asked for their cooperation in restoring democracy to a once prosperous country that is slowly melting into despair.

"The socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro has inflicted terrible misery and suffering on the good people of that country [Venezuela]," President Trump said.  "His corrupt regime destroyed a thriving nation by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and despair everywhere it has been tried," said Mr. Trump referring to the socialist government that Maduro inherited from his predecessor Hugo Chavez. 

Since the election of Hugo Chavez and his self-styled socialist revolution in 1999, Venezuela, a country with the world's largest oil reserves, has gone from being one of the world's most successful oil exporters to one with a black market economy and a worthless currency.  Under Chavez, the Venezuelan government nationalized the economy, seized control of institutions including courts and televised media and aligned the country's foreign policy with U.S. opponents such as Iran, Russia, China and Cuba.

After Chavez's death in March of 2013, vice president Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's heir apparent, narrowly won a disputed election the following month to serve out Chavez's six-year term, which is due to end in 2018.  Since that time, Maduro has consolidated power by imposing stricter currency measures, wage and price controls and jailing anyone who challenges his authority.  His strict control of the economy has created mass shortages of everything from food to baby diapers. 

President Trump first spoke out on the crisis in Venezuela soon after entering office on February 15, 2017 when he tweeted a photograph of himself, Vice President Mike Pense and Florida Senator Marco Rubio posing with the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner who was being held by the Maduro government (see photo).  Since then, the White House has been steadily building the case for some form of action against Venezuela.

"The Venezuelan people are starving, and their country is collapsing," Mr. Trump said at the dinner.  "The situation is completely unacceptable.  As responsible neighbors and friends of the Venezuelan people, our goal must be to help them regain their freedom, recover their country and restore their democracy."

But other Latin American leaders seem less alarmed than President Trump.  "Evidently, everyone at the table wants a democratic solution in Venezuela, but no one wants a foreign intervention," said Brazilian President Michel Temer, according to Reuters.  Other than Temer, the invited guests were presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Juan Carlos Verela of Panama and Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti with their foreign ministers.

The devaluation of Venezuela's currency, the bolivar, has created mass shortages of food and merchandise.  When Chavez came to power in 1999, the value of the bolivar was basically on par with the U.S. dollar but since that time it has undergone several official devaluations.  However, most Bolivars are traded on a black market that values the currency at well over 100 to the dollar.