The United States has indicted Venezuela’s socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro and other top regime officials in a narco-terrorism and drug trafficking conspiracy that aimed to “flood the United States with cocaine,” the Justice Department announced.
The department unsealed a criminal indictment against Maduro, accusing him of facilitating efforts in conjunction with a violent terrorist organization—the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC)—to smuggle cocaine into the United States. The socialist leader has been charged with participating in narco-terrorism conspiracy—which carries a 20-year minimum sentence, conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, and related criminal offenses to support the drug smuggling effort.
Attorney General William Barr announced the charges during a press conference on Thursday, adding that the conspiracy involved many current and former top Venezuelan regime officials who allegedly profited from the corruption. The DOJ also indicted more than a dozen of these high ranking officials for their involvement in the conspiracy including the head of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly, intelligence officials, and military members. Moreover, two FARC leaders have also been charged.
“The Venezuelan regime, once led by Nicolás Maduro Moros, remains plagued by criminality and corruption,” Barr said. “For more than 20 years, Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the FARC, causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities.”
“Today’s announcement is focused on rooting out the extensive corruption within the Venezuelan government—a system constructed and controlled to enrich those at the highest levels of the government. The United States will not allow these corrupt Venezuelan officials to use the U.S. banking system to move their illicit proceeds from South America nor further their criminal schemes,” he added.
The DOJ highlighted that although Maduro is currently in Venezuela, the socialist leader may travel outside of the country and that it was offering a $15 million reward for information that would lead to his capture and conviction.
“We do expect eventually to gain custody of these defendants and we’re going to explore all options for getting custody,” Barr said during the press conference.
Responding in a Twitter post, Maduro condemned the charges, accusing the United States and Columbia of conspiring to “fill Venezuela with violence.”
The indictment accuses Maduro and his co-defendants of acting as leaders and managers of a drug trafficking organization called the “Cartel of the Suns,” since 1999. The cartel sought to not only allow its members to profit but also “flood” the United States with cocaine and “inflict the drug’s harmful and addictive effects on users in the United States,” the court filings alleged.
The indictment said that Maduro, who was a leader of the cartel, negotiated multi-ton shipments of cocaine produced by FARC, directed that the cartel provide military-grade weapons to the FARC, and coordinated foreign affairs with Honduras and other countries to “facilitate large-scale drug trafficking.” He was also accused of soliciting assistance from FARC leadership in training an unsanctioned militia group that is functioning, in essence, as an armed forces unit of the cartel.
Barr said the United States estimates that about 250 metric tons of cocaine were dispatched out of Venezuela using air and maritime routes. The attorney general said that amount of cocaine equates to 30 million lethal doses.
It comes months after President Donald Trump placed pressure on Maduro to leave office after Venezuela’s duly elected National Assembly declared Maduro’s presidency illegitimate. The United States refuses to recognize him as the Venezuelan leader because of a fraudulent election, instead officially recognizing his opponent, Juan Guaidó, as the interim president.
The standoff between the two has become a global referendum on socialism, with more than 100 free-world nations including the United States, the UK, and Australia siding with Guaidó. Despite this Maduro has refused to give up control, causing Venezuela to spiral into political chaos exacerbated by its ruined economy.
The United States has long accused Maduro and his socialist regime of human rights abuses, corruption, and for being responsible for the country’s collapsed economy.
“Maduro is an illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalizes his people,” Trump said during his State of the Union speech in February. “But Maduro’s grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken.”