One of the stories of the 2020 election results is the role that Hispanic voters played, especially in an electorally critical state like Florida. A key message that two such communities, Florida’s Cuban and Venezuelan voters, sent to politicians of both parties was loud and unequivocal: it is time to stand up to socialist dictators in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.
The theme is ongoing for Cuban Americans, but a more recent phenomenon for more than 100,000 Venezuelan Americans living in Florida who are currently watching the country of their birth deteriorate under the failed leadership of socialist autocrat Nicolas Maduro.
President Trump made a consistent effort to appeal to these voters, with rhetorical attacks on Maduro, the Cuban regime, and socialism in general. Even in the last weeks of his term, Trump has a chance to take a concrete step on behalf of the victims of socialism by making sure those victims are rightfully compensated. A glaring example involves Canadian mining company Crystallex, which had its assets nationalized by Hugo Chavez after Crystallex refused to pay bribes to his regime.
Crystallex invested more than $500 million into the Venezuelan economy in 2011 to develop the Las Cristinas Gold mine. This privately owned mine was set to be a huge economic boost to the country by supporting infrastructure development, social causes, and create hundreds of local jobs.
Now, Crystallex seeks compensation through the court system for the illegal seizure. In 2016, Crystallex was awarded $1.4 billion by a World Bank tribunal. The U.S. Court system has also ruled in favor of Crystallex at every turn. In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that Crystallex and other victims can be repaid using the assets of the Venezuelan state-owned petrochemical company Citgo, which is based in the United States. The Venezuelan government appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but their case was rejected.
However, President Trump’s Treasury Department has so far refused to unfreeze Citgo’s assets to compensate Crystallex for their stolen property. This head-scratching inaction effectively sends the message that socialist dictators can steal private property without consequence.
The Hispanic Leadership Fund (HLF) advocates on behalf of hardworking families in the U.S., including the hundreds of thousands of Cuban and Venezuelan Americans who came to this country fleeing regimes that flouted the basic principles of property rights, rule of law and equal opportunity.
President Trump won the support of these communities in large part because he promised to stand up against the socialist dictators who are antithetical to these values. Those who fled failed socialist regimes understand deeply how authoritarianism destroys families, businesses, and entire countries.
But if the Treasury Department fails to hold the Maduro regime accountable for this illegal seizure, the Trump administration will be acquiescing to the Venezuelan government’s theft and effectively giving Maduro and his henchmen a blank check to steal from more businesses, including those owned by Americans.
Earlier this year, HLF joined more than a dozen free-market groups urging President Trump and his Treasury Department to hold Nicolas Maduro accountable for the theft of Crystallex’s property. Together we argued that upholding the rule of law would be a positive step towards rebuilding a free Venezuela, and that “if the U.S. government provides a reasonable path forward to property owners, it will offer a strong rebuke of Hugo Chavez’s and Nicolas Maduro’s blatant disregard for free enterprise.”
Thankfully, there is still time for President Trump to move beyond campaign rhetoric and choose to hold Maduro and his socialist government accountable for stealing private property. Such a move would be a concrete step against autocrats and in favor of property rights and the rule of law — one that all refugees from oppressive regimes can applaud.
Mario H. Lopez is president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a non-partisan public policy advocacy organization that advance liberty, opportunity, and prosperity for all.