Days before tightly contested midterm elections in Florida, President Donald Trump’s top security adviser praised the victory of Brazil’s far-right president-elect as a “positive sign” and announced to a Miami crowd that tough new sanctions are coming against Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
National security adviser John Bolton said Thursday that the US was thrilled to work with “like-minded” leaders, singling out Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian politician known for misogynistic, racist and homophobic remarks, approving comments about military rule and an environmental outlook that critics say could spell “global disaster.”
“The United States is thrilled to be partnering with nations such as Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and many others to advance the rule of law and increase security and prosperity for our people,” Bolton said.
“The recent elections of like-minded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region,” Bolton added, “and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent and accountable governance.”
Bolton spoke at Miami’s Freedom Tower, where the US offered assistance to refugees seeking asylum from Fidel Castro’s Cuba, as a CNN poll showed Florida voters are almost evenly split on both the Senate and gubernatorial contests.
As Trump and the GOP embrace openly divisive, racially charged ads casting Central Americans as cop killers and immigration as a national threat, Bolton offered a counterpoint as he spoke in an immigrant-heavy city with a large Cuban-American community.
Not only did he hold his speech at a building known as the “Ellis Island of the South,” but Bolton also paid also tribute to the American immigrant tradition by praising Cuban refugees for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps through hard work and sacrifice.
He promised the crowd a tough US approach to the “troika of tyranny,” his term for Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, saying they represented “the perils of poisonous ideologies left unchecked.”
He condemned socialism and hinted that the US would work to topple those governments: “We are an impatient people too and it’s time to see the people of those three countries have free governments.”
“Under this administration, we will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores,” Bolton said, in a speech that was frequently interrupted by applause. “We will not reward firing squads, torturers and murderers. We will champion the independence and liberty of our neighbors. And this President, and his entire administration, will stand with the freedom fighters.”
“The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere – Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua – has finally met its match,” he said.
Bolton said the Trump administration was taking “concrete actions to make sure US dollars don’t reach Cuban military and intelligence apparatus,” and that the administration will announce that “over two dozen additional entities” owned or controlled by the Cuban military and intelligence services will face sanctions that bar them from doing business with US citizens and businesses.
“And I believe even more will come as well,” he added. “We’re going to make sure that we put as much pressure on as we can.”
Bolton tied the Cuban government to the “suffering” in Venezuela and called on other countries in the region to “let the Cuban regime know it will be held responsible” for conditions there.
He called for the release of all Venezuelan political prisoners; the country to hold free, fair elections; the country taking steps to re-establish the rule of law; and its acceptance of international assistance in the face of widespread humanitarian hardship as the economy crumbles.
He said Trump has signed a new executive order, effective immediately, that imposes “tough, new sanctions” against Venezuela to target “networks operating within corrupt Venezuelan economic sectors and deny them access to stolen wealth.”
Bolton said the US was particularly targeting the gold sector, which he said was used to fill the coffers of President Nicolas Maduro and fund criminal groups. He added that “more sanctions are likely coming.”
Bolton roundly condemned Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, saying his regime has stifled free speech and “imposed a policy of jail, exile or death for political opponents.”
“This behavior is unacceptable anywhere and especially in the Western Hemisphere,” Bolton said. “Free, fair elections must be held and democracy must be restored to the Nicaraguan people.” Until then, he added, the “Nicaraguan regime, like Venezuela and Cuba, will feel the full weight of America’s robust sanctions regime.”
Bolton added that “more sanctions are likely coming.”
CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Mike Conte contributed to this report