The United States Government has brought a criminal charge against the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, for international drug trafficking. This was confirmed by the head of the Department of Justice, William Barr, in a statement broadcast over the Internet in which he announced “rewards for information that could lead to the arrest and imprisonment” of Maduro and other members of the regime’s leadership. The other Venezuelan officials accused are Diosdado Cabello Rondón, president of the “illegitimate Constituent Assembly”; Maikel Moreno, President of the Supreme Court of Justice; Vladimir Padrino, Minister of Defense; Hugo Carvajal Barrios, former director of military intelligence; retired general Cliver Alcalá Cordones; and Tarek El Aissami, Minister of Industry and National Production. The US Government offers a reward of 15 million dollars (75 million reais) for information about Maduro and another 10 million dollars (50 million reais) for data that leads to the arrest of the other Chavista leaders.
“The Venezuelan people deserve a responsible and transparent representative government at the service of people’s needs, which does not betray the people’s trust by forgiving or employing public officials involved in the illegal narcotics trade,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. “The United States is committed to helping the Venezuelan people in restoring democracy through free and fair presidential elections.”
The accusations are a further escalation of pressure from the Donald Trump Administration to bring Maduro out of power. “Today Nicolás Maduro will be prosecuted by the Department of Justice and accused of narcoterrorism,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio had said on Twitter at 10:15 am (in Washington), one of the most belligerent US lawmakers in relation to the Chavista regime.
Accusations of criminal activities against the Government of Venezuela have been frequent in the State Department. “[Maduro] leads something that resembles a drug cartel more than a government, ”said Pompeo in January. “It is time to call this regime by name,” said Secretary Barr in Thursday’s announcement.
The United States and dozens of countries have recognized opponent Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. More than a year after recognition, however, and with a country plunged into a deep crisis, Maduro remains in power – supported by the army and supported by Cuba, Russia and China.
The announcement has unsettled the Maduro government, which for a year has faced unprecedented international isolation since it started its dispute with Guaidó. In the last few weeks, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Chavism tried to reestablish some diplomatic channels and even rehearsed a timid attempt to resume relations with neighboring Colombia, in order to explore a joint strategy in the face of the pandemic. But Washington’s accusations have closed that path.
The first reaction of Hugo Chávez’s successor was the usual one: an accusation against the governments of Trump and the Colombian of Iván Duque. “I ratify my complaint! USA and Colombia conspire and gave the order to bring violence to Venezuela. As head of state, I am obliged to defend the peace and stability of the entire country, under any circumstances. They could not and will not! ”Wrote the agent on Twitter, shortly after the US announcement.
The accusations made by Washington refer to Caracas’ collaboration with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the guerrilla group that in 2016 signed peace with Bogotá, demobilized and turned into a political party. During the implementation of the agreements, last August, some leaders of the former guerrilla group announced their return to arms, and Colombian authorities accuse Maduro of protecting them in Venezuela. The two countries are separated by a border of more than 2,200 kilometers, which is now closed by order of Duke to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Among the leaders appointed by Washington is the dome of Chavism. Diosdado Cabello represents the most radical wing of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and has already been sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury. Tareck El Aissami had been charged by Washington for crimes related to drug trafficking. And Hugo Carvajal Barrios, known as El Pollo, a former head of military intelligence, was captured last year in Madrid and expects to be extradited by Spanish courts to Washington.
Maduro’s government has been under the lens of US officials for years, and the reward for capturing the president is yet another step by Trump in an attempt to close the siege against him. In the last few weeks, there were some signs of distension between the Government and the opposition, which agreed to start the procedures to renew the National Electoral Council (CNE) with a view to holding the legislative elections scheduled for this year.