Florida Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis expressed skepticism Monday during a visit to South Florida about Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's claims that he survived an assassination attempt hatched as part of a conspiracy between "far-right" terrorists and his enemies in Miami.
"I don't know whether that's a legitimate thing or he's just doing that," DeSantis, a member of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Miami Herald. "I'm trying to get the details on that."
Following an appearance at a Westchester luncheon by the Women's Republican Club of Miami Federated, DeSantis said he didn't know yet what to make of Maduro's assertion that someone intended to kill him with drones packed with C-4 as he addressed the country's National Guard on live television. Investigators in the country have raided hotels and seized vehicles while interrogating suspects.
National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have denied any U.S. involvement. A video that has not been authenticated has circulated showing a drone exploding in mid-air, but the assassination claim has also been disputed by firefighters in Caracas who said the explosion occurred in a nearby apartment building and was caused by a gas leak.
"It's hard to know whether that's legit or not," DeSantis said when asked to comment on Maduro's statements about surviving an assassination attempt. "All I can say is I look forward to the day where Nicolas Maduro is no longer the dictator of Venezuela and the people of Venezuela have a voice again and they can get their system in a different direction from this disastrous socialism that has totally wrecked that country."
Maduro was already on DeSantis' mind Monday afternoon as he spoke to voters at Mojitos Cuban Cuisine on Southwest Eighth Street, not far from the Venezuelan exile hub in Doral.
The three-term Palm Coast congressman noted that he sponsored a resolution passed by the House last year condemning the Venezuelan government's role in an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the South American country. Continuing his use of New York's Democratic Socialist candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a foil, DeSantis drew applause from an intimate crowd packed into a private room by warning of "people peddling socialism now in our country."
DeSantis, a former JAG officer who served for a time at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, also noted that he's pushing to have the Department of Justice indict former Cuban leader Raúl Castro for the 1996 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes that took off from Opa-locka.
"Socialist dictatorships are bad for people," he said. "We see that here in South Florida."
DeSantis' visit to Miami comes with polls showing him ahead of his GOP primary opponent, Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, and one week after President Donald Trump stumped for him in Tampa. Much of his campaign has been waged on FOX News and on Capitol Hill, which Florida's Miami-based lieutenant governor referenced in a slight released Monday by Putnam's campaign just in time for DeSantis' visit.
"Our next Governor needs to know the details of Florida better than they know the details of TV studios in the nation's swamp," Carlos Lopez-Cantera said in a statement.
But DeSantis spent about a half-hour Monday discussing Florida schools, taxes and business development, albeit at a broad level. Questions from reporters before his speech primarily revolved around his relationship with Trump, but the audience pressed him on how he plans to improve public schools and keep taxes low.
DeSantis said he supports a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November that would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to impose, approve or raise state taxes and wants to reform "our out-of-control litigation system." He said he is a strong believer in Florida's tax-credit voucher system, which supporters say gives struggling families new and improved educational options.
DeSantis also continued to argue for better vocational options at schools, and for a requirement that high school students pass the same test required of immigrants seeking their U.S. citizenship. And, of course, he reminded the audience of Trump's support, and his ability to work with the federal government to get things accomplished.
"I'll just leave you with the words of our friend from 16 Pennsylvania Avenue," DeSantis said: "'Ron DeSantis, proud veteran, a brilliant, tough cookie.'"