1. Opinion

Editorial: Rick Scott's reckless, inaccurate rhetoric

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Published May 17, 2019

Sen. Rick Scott's reckless, inaccurate rhetoric regarding Venezuela's political crisis reflects poorly on Florida and will not help resolve a deteriorating situation. His repeated description of indefensible violence and oppression by the country's authoritarian leader, Nicolás Maduro, as genocide is off base. His pitch for U.S. military intervention is dangerous and has not been embraced by President Donald Trump or Sen. Marco Rubio. His criticism of U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist for visiting Cuba is purely partisan pandering.

Rick Scott is always for Rick Scott first, regardless of the consequences. His political calculation to pander to South Florida immigrants and raise his national profile with the most outrageous, aggressive sound bites is irresponsible. If his goal is to eclipse Rubio as the most recognizable critic of the Maduro regime, this is not the way to do it.

Words matter. The Holocaust was a genocide, but what is going on in Venezuela — awful as it is — is not. There is a reason no other responsible U.S. politician has invoked the term even while they are united against Maduro, the criminal strongman president who is so far keeping his grip on power. Using the word "genocide" grossly exaggerates what is happening in Venezuela and insults the memory of victims of actual genocides such as the Holocaust (11 million killed, six million of them Jews), Rwanda (between 500,000 and 1 million killed in 1994) or Sudan (more than 2.5 million dead, mostly in Darfur).

The Venezuelan economy has collapsed, people are going without food and medicine, hyperinflation is rampant, and more than 10 percent of its 30 million people have fled the country altogether. But running the government as a criminal enterprise and a conduit for drug cartels, as Maduro and his henchmen do, is not genocide.

Scott would do well to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington or the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. He would learn, as the national Holocaust Museum says, that genocide is "a very specific term, referring to violent crimes committed against a group with the intent to destroy the existence of the group." Maduro is a ruthless dictator, but genocide is not his goal.

Words matter. Scott continues to advocate for U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. He cites the Monroe Doctrine that has been relied upon by former presidents to stand against foreign powers extending their reach into the Western Hemisphere. This is not the Cuban missile crisis, and at this moment it is not in the national interest to militarily intervene in Venezuela and escalate a dangerous situation into a broader international conflict. The United States has plenty of economic and diplomatic tools to help Venezuelans resolve this crisis and oust Maduro themselves — although the Department of Homeland Security's decision Wednesday to suspend commercial and cargo flights between the United States and Venezuela seems counterproductive.

Words matter. Scott is wrong to call the recent visit to Cuba by Crist, D-St. Petersburg, "an absolute disgrace" and to make the ridiculous claim that "the money he and any staff spent in Havana was sent to Caracas to keep Maduro and his brutal regime in power." It is wise to try to maintain reasonable relations with Cuba, and Crist's trip was perfectly legitimate. Like Scott, Crist has called for Maduro to hand over power to Interim President Juan Guaidó, seen by the United States and dozens of allies as the legitimate leader.

Scott struggled for eight years as governor to articulate a vision beyond his robotic mantra about jobs. As the most junior member of the U.S. Senate, he's trying to make a name for himself as the most aggressive voice on Venezuela. He might have the right issue, but he's flat wrong with his rhetoric.