The US has indicted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on “narco-terrorism” charges. The play is a familiar one, as Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega was slapped with similar charges before a US invasion 30 years ago.
Maduro and 14 current and former Venezuelan government and military officials were indicted on Thursday by courts in Florida, New York and Washington DC. According to the Justice Department, Maduro and his cohorts conspired with Colombian guerillas to “flood” the US with cocaine, transporting the drug to American shores by air and sea.
“The Maduro regime is awash with corruption and criminality,” Attorney General William Barr said at a press conference on Thursday. “This cabal lines their pockets with drug money, and this has to come to an end.”
Barr did not provide any evidence of drug seizures, but claimed the US authorities have observed the trafficking operation at work in Central America.
The State Department offered the $15 million bounty for Maduro, along with rewards of up to $10 million each for information on five Venezuelan political and military leaders.
The indictments – filed against a sitting head of state – are a bold move. Yet Washington has spent more than a year attempting to remove Maduro from power. After Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself ‘interim president’ last January, Washington was quick to recognize him as the Latin American country’s legitimate leader. Rounds of sanctions against the Maduro government followed, and military action was at one point rumored.
Maduro, however, kept the loyalty of his police and military, and remains in power in Caracas.
The US’ chances of actually arresting and prosecuting Maduro are slim, though Barr did say that the Justice Department is “exploring all options” when it comes to apprehending the Venezuelan leader. Short of arranging his kidnapping by the Venezuelan opposition, Barr only said that the US authorities could strike while Maduro and his associates are traveling, itself a remote possibility amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The US has indicted only one sitting head of state before Maduro – Panamanian ruler Manuel Noriega, in 1988. As with Maduro, Washington did not recognize Noriega as Panama’s legitimate leader at the time.
Once an ally of the US, Noriega was eventually captured by US special forces following an invasion of Panama in 1989, and convicted by a Miami court three years later. When asked on Thursday whether military action could be used to capture Maduro, Barr did not comment.
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