Venezuela blasts “unfounded” US charges against Maduro
Caracas, Mar 26 (efe-epa).- The Venezuelan government on Thursday said that the indictments made by the US government against President Nicolas Maduro and more than a dozen top Venezuelan officials for alleged drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism are “unfounded.”
“Venezuela denounces … a new type of coup d’etat on the basis of vile, vulgar and unfounded accusations designed to minimize the high regard Venezuela enjoys in the fight against drug trafficking,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on state-run VTV television, reading from a government statement.
Earlier in the day, the US government announced multiple indictments against Maduro and 14 other figures associated with the Chavista regime in Caracas, as well as two dissidents from the now disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas for drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism.
Arreaza accused the administration of Donald Trump of “attacking the people and their democratic institutions” while “humanity is facing the most ferocious of pandemics,” a reference to the worldwide coronavirus crisis.
In the judgment of Venezuelan authorities, “the policy of regime change by force in Venezuela is destined for failure.”
In addition, Arreaza said that “offering rewards in the style of the racist cowboys of the Far West shows the desperation of Washington’s supremacist elite and their obsession with Venezuela for achieving electoral returns in the state of Florida,” apparently a reference to the fact that many Venezuelan ex-patriates, as well as staunchly anti-socialist Cuban and Nicaraguan exiles, live in Florida and might react favorably to the Trump administration’s bringing charges against Maduro.
Earlier in the day, the US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Ariana Fajardo Orshan said at a virtual press conference that she had a message for all top Venezuelan officials: “The party’s over.”
Prosecutors in Florida and New York, where the US Justice Department filed the charges, said that over the past 20 years, since the late Hugo Chavez assumed power in Venezuela in 1999, the Venezuelan government has been conspiring with the FARC to ship tons of cocaine to the US.
US Attorney General William Barr said that Maduro and other top Chavista officials – including National Constituent Assembly (ANC) president Diosdado Cabello – are part of the “Cartel of the Suns,” the name of which refers to the insignia worn on the uniforms of high-ranking Venezuelan military officers.
According to Barr, the socialist Maduro – as the “leader” of the cartel – and other Venezuelan officials have worked with the FARC dissidents to send some 250 tons of cocaine per year to the US via the Caribbean and several Central American countries, including Honduras.
“The Maduro regime is awash in corruption and criminality,” said Barr at an online press conference. “While the Venezuelan people suffer, this cabal lines their pockets with drug money, and the proceeds of their corruption. And this has to come to an end.”
This is the second time in US history that charges have been filed against a foreign head of state, the first being in 1989 when prosecutors in Miami charged Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega with drug trafficking, ultimately arresting him during the US invasion of that country, then bringing him to trial, convicting him and imprisoning him in Florida.
Normally, foreign leaders who are still in office have immunity from prosecution under US law and international norms.
Prosecutors and law enforcement officials in Miami, New Yor, Houston and Washington collected the evidence against Maduro and the other figures over several years, focusing many of those investigations on Venezuela’s state-run oil company – PDVSA – which brings in almost all of Venezuela’s export revenue. Last year, Washington sanctioned PDVSA and prevented Americans from doing business with the firm.
To bring the accused to justice in this case, the US offered a reward of $15 million for information leading to Maduro’s arrest, $10 million for such information on Cabello and $10 million for similar information on three other figures: Economic Vice President Tareck El Aissami, former Venezuelan Gen. Hugo Carvajal and former military commander Cliver Alcala Cordones.
In all, the US filed charges against 15 Venezuelan officials or ex-officials.
In addition to the five above-mentioned officials, charges were filed against Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, Supreme Court Justice Maikel Moreno and former Deputy Energy Minister Nervis Gerardo Villalobos Cardenas.
Also indicted were former Energy Minister Luis Motta; a former air force officer, Oscar Rafael Colmenarez Villalobos; the head of Criptoactivos, Joselit Ramirez; ex-assistant director of the National Anti-drug Office and current military attache in Germany, Edylberto Jose Molina; and former Bolivarian National Guard members Rafael Antonio Villasana Fernandez and Vassyly Kotosky Villarroel.