The U.S. Justice Department charged Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and several other government officials of drug trafficking last week, accusing them of conspiring with Colombian insurgents to smuggle tons of cocaine to the United States. The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney General William Barr at a video press conference in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
Maduro and the current and former government officials were indicted on charges of conspiring with the Colombian leftist rebel group FARC to use Venezuela as a base for conducting drug trafficking operations that sent cocaine to the U.S. through Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The FARC rebels then used proceeds from the drug smuggling to finance its civil war with the Colombian government.
The officials indicted more than a dozen other defendants along with Maduro. They include Diosdado Cabello, a former president of the National Assembly and the second-most powerful politician in Venezuela; Hugo Carvajal, a former director of military intelligence who is believed to be on the run in Spain; and Clíver Antonio Alcalá, a former general in the Venezuelan armed forces. Two senior FARC leaders were also charged. All of the defendants face charges of drug trafficking, narco-terrorism, and weapons violations.
“Maduro and the other defendants have betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuela’s institutions,” Barr said. “While the Venezuela people suffer, this cabal lines their pockets with drug money and the proceeds of their corruption. This has to come to an end.”
According to the indictment, Maduro was a leader of the drug enterprise known as the Cartel de Los Soles. Prosecutors allege that he organized the shipment of tons of FARC cocaine, provided military weapons to the rebels, and coordinated foreign affairs in Honduras to facilitate smuggling.
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, said that Maduro plotted to harm both Americans and Venezuelans in the criminal conspiracy that spanned decades. The embattled president is accused of exporting hundreds of tons of cocaine to the U.S. in the four-count indictment.
“Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon,” Berman said. “While Maduro and other cartel members held lofty titles in Venezuela’s political and military leadership, the conduct described in the Indictment wasn’t statecraft or service to the Venezuelan people.”
“The scope and magnitude of the drug trafficking alleged was made possible only because Maduro and others corrupted the institutions of Venezuela and provided political and military protection for the rampant narco-terrorism crimes,” he added.
Maduro’s presidency is no longer recognized by the United States. Instead, the Trump administration has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s leader in January 2019 after a disputed election. Under Maduro’s leadership, Venezuela’s once-robust economy has collapsed, leading to an exodus of millions of the country’s citizens, many to the U.S. state of Florida.
The U.S. government has offered a $15 million dollar reward for information leading to the capture of Maduro and a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Cabello, Carvajal, and Alcalá. On Friday, Alcalá turned himself in to authorities in Colombia, who then handed him over to the U.S.