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Venezuela rejects U.S. drug trafficking charge against President Maduro

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Apr 2, 2020 - 11:37:59 AM

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United States Attorney General William Barr announced Washington brought “narco-terrorism,” corruption and drug trafficking charges against Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro and 14 current and former officials of his government. The March 26 indictment also included two Columbian leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a resistance group.

(L) United States Attorney General William Barr (R) Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro

During a virtual press conference at the Department of Justice, Mr. Barr, flanked by New York and Florida State attorney generals and officials from Homeland Security and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) alleged that Mr. Maduro conspired with members of FARC, “to flood the United States with cocaine.” The Venezuelan government rejected the claim as “miserable, vulgar and unfounded” accusations.

“As alleged, Maduro and the other defendants expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and well-being of our nation,” said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Mr. Berman said, Mr. Maduro, who led the country since 2013 and others deliberately utilized cocaine as a weapon while holding “lofty titles in Venezuela’s political and military leadership.”

The indictment also named Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, senior socialist leader Diosdado Cabello, and Maikel Moreno, the chief justice of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, who was charged with money laundering.

President Maduro in a March 26 tweet accused the U.S. and Columbia of plotting violence in Venezuela which he vowed to answer.

“I ratify my complaint! From the USA and Colombia conspires and they have given the order to fill Venezuela with violence. As head of state I am obliged to defend the Peace and stability of the entire Homeland, in any circumstance that comes our way. They could not and will not!” President Maduro wrote.

The Venezuelan government denounced the indictment in an official co mmuniqué. “The people of Venezuela and its Bolivarian Government will face with truth all the attacks and lies that come from the main State that promotes terrorism and drug trafficking in the world,” read the communiqué, alluding to the U.S.

“Venezuela’s independence is consolidated in the face of every attack by the decadent and infamous U.S. imperialism,” the memo continued, calling the move a “desperate action” of the Trump administration.

Observers say the move is the latest by the administration in a pressure campaign toward regime change in the Latin American country.

“First of all, these are totally fraudulent charges,” said antiwar activist Sara Flounders of the New York-based International Action Center in response to the announcement.

“It is exactly the kind of criminal acts that the U.S. is conducting and continues to conduct, even in a moment of global crisis pandemic, when lessening human suffering and deaths on a vast scale should be in place,” Ms. Flounders argued. “And instead, what is U.S. imperialism doing?”

She condemned the timing, while there is an international struggle against the COVID-19 virus that has infected hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and resulted in over 25,000 deaths at presstime.

Ms. Flounders contends Washington is ratcheting up to make it harder for food and basic medicine and the charges are “an effort to put even stricter, harsher sanctions than already exist,” she said.

President Trump addressing reporters March 26 refuted the U.S. is purposely squeezing Venezuela at a time of global distress. “No, no. We don’t look at a weak point. This is a serious problem for over 150 nations,” Mr. Trump said, but added: “Maduro and Venezuela, we’re watching it very closely.”

However, critics of U.S. foreign policy in Venezuela say the actions fits the profile of the U.S. geopolitical posture toward other countries like Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria.

“You’re looking at U.S. thuggery, that goes back to the days when the U.S. started to just overthrow governments in Latin America,” Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink Women for Peace told The Final Call. “The U.S. is so frustrated that it hasn’t been able to do that in the case of Venezuela, and it’s tried so many different ways,” she said.

Targeting Mr. Maduro continues a long history of U.S. attempted overthrows and destabilizing Venezuela that started with his late predecessor, Hugo Chavis. Venezuela is a target because of the strategic and historical role it played ushering in progressive governments in Latin America. There is an effort to counter the rise of center-left governments that reject being controlled by U.S. interests, analysts argued.

Ajamu Baraka, national organizer for Black Alliance for Peace said the indictment is another example of the “ongoing criminality of this administration and indeed, past administrations” trying to squash any attempt by any nation creating space to charter its own independent path toward development and prosperity for its people.

The indictment alleges since 1999 Mr. Maduro, Mr. Cabello and others led a drug cartel called the Cartel de Los Soles, or “Cartel of the Suns,” referring to the sun insignias affixed to the uniforms of high-ranking Venezuelan military officials.

The Justice Department document said cartel members abused the Venezuelan people and corrupted legitimate institutions—including parts of the military, intelligence apparatus, legislature, and the judiciary—to facilitate moving tons of cocaine into the United States. But, justice advocates question U.S. credibility in raising such a claim.

“The absurdity of the U.S. taking a position as the world’s policeman and condemning a government for supposedly being involved in drug trade is the height of hypocrisy,” said Mr. Baraka. Placed in historical context, it was the U.S. government that’s been exposed for being involved in international drug trafficking for political objectives, he added.

It’s on record the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency during the 1980s Iran-Contra affair entered the drug trade that jumpstarted the crack cocaine epidemic that devastated Black communities in the U.S. The illicit trade helped illegally fund arms for American backed counter revolutionaries in Nicaragua. Another example is the alliance between the U.S. and drug pushers in Afghanistan that refueled heroin in U.S. cities.

“So, this idea of U.S. taking some kind of legal and moral stance on drug trafficking is absurd,” argues Mr. Baraka.

Meanwhile the U.S. State Department issued a $15 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Mr. Maduro, and $10 million for his codefendants.

“I find that alarming,” said Ms. Benjamin. “It’s a bounty on the head of a sitting president. It’s just unheard of.” She says the bounty is designed to cause chaos within Venezuela and peel away members of the military and police. “Offering monetary rewards to anybody in the security forces who will defect … is taking it to another level altogether.”

Ms. Benjamin called the timing of the move “cruel” and “inhumane” and said it shows what a “mean and brutal kind of government” the Trump administration is. “This is just a disgusting example of U.S. imperialism that we’ve seen, unfortunately, so many times throughout our history,” said Ms. Benjamin.

Upheaval in Venezuela would make it more difficult to respond to the coronavirus. “Who would wish that on anybody at this particular moment in history,” she said.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of up to life in prison. However, detaining Mr. Maduro or any of those indicted is complicated business requiring either betrayal within Venezuela, or if he travels to a third country with an Extradition Treaty with the U.S. that would hand him over.

“If the U.S. were successful,” said Ms. Benjamin, “it would be total chaos.”

At Final Call presstime it was reported that a former top Venezuelan military leader named in the indictment had turned himself in to authorities in neighboring Columbia and was extradited to the U.S.

DEA agents arrested retired Venezuelan major general Cliver Alcala on March 27. Mr. Alcala waived challenging extradition and agreed to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors, said Reuters.

Mr. Alcala has been a staunch critic of Mr. Maduro and was a high-ranking official during the presidency of his predecessor Hugo Chavez.