As news of President Donald Trump’s visit to Florida International University percolates through the campus, some students are cheering on his Venezuelan policies, others are organizing protests and one group nearly lost its event space to a then-unidentified VIP.
The Miami Herald first reported the visit on Feb. 13. On Friday, White House officials confirmed Trump would be speaking about the crisis in the South Americans country at the university’s Ocean Bank Convocation Center Monday at 4 p.m.
The FIU chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America and the Anti-Trump Committee — an off-campus group — are recruiting students for a planned Monday protest with a sign-making event Saturday at 1 p.m. outside of the SIPA building.
“We attend an international school that prides itself in diversity and inclusivity yet we are inviting a bigot who routinely attacks immigrants, and [people of color],” said YDSA President Andy Vila. “I believe that Trump is attempting to start a coup in Venezuela for the purpose of stealing Venezuela’s oil.”
University officials have stated that, as a public university, FIU can not turn down requests to use its facilities as long as its regulations are followed.
Tamanisha John, the secretary of the YDSA, said the group’s members are “disgusted” about the president’s visit and consider it a strategy to “garner support up for U.S. imperialist actions in Venezuela.”
But Luisana Zambrano Diaz, president of the Venezuelan Student Alliance, supports Trump’s stance on Venezuela.
She believes interim Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó was right to declare himself the national executive.
“We are on a very historic moment of our national history and politically I believe we are doing what is correct,” she said. “I do hope that everything that has been happening will be for the sake of democracy.”
The Chinese Club, which is hosting a New Year Gala on Monday, was told Wednesday it needed to give up the space it had reserved at Graham Center six month ago.
‘[The Event Planning Office] really didn’t give me the context of what was going on,” said Ivan Jimenez, the president of the Chinese Club, adding he was told only told it was a “VIP guest” and being made “at the request of the president of FIU.”
It didn’t take long to figure it out, though.
“When I saw the article, everything clicked,” he said.
He said a member of the university’s External Relations team told them the next day the still-unidentified VIP had decided on a different venue and that they could get the room back.
Despite the impact and preparations, university officials have been generally quiet about details, referring most questions to White House officials who, in turn, say details are forthcoming.
On Friday afternoon, a news release sent to faculty, staff and students said that tickets to the event were being managed by the White House, higher-than-average traffic is expected and that an unspecified area around the Ocean Bank center would be closed starting Sunday.
As to how the event came about, FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana said the White House contacted the university.
“The White House reached out to FIU about holding a presidential event on campus,” said Santana.
And, she said, due to the school’s status as a public university, “FIU is not permitted to discriminate based on speech.”
“Individuals and organizations that comply with FIU regulations and facility use requirements may use FIU facilities,” she said. “FIU hosts a diverse array of individuals and organizations every year.”