WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced a sweeping indictment Thursday of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and some of his associates on federal drug-trafficking and related charges, in a major escalation of the U.S.-led campaign to topple Maduro and his socialist government.
Attorney General William Barr outlined the charges at a news conference Thursday morning in Washington. Prosecutors also alleged that Maduro and members of his inner circle conspired with dissident rebels from neighboring Colombia to produce and transport thousands of tons of cocaine to the United States. Maduro and his allies pocketed profits, and the rebels received weapons, the indictment alleges.
“The Maduro regime is awash in corruption and criminality,” Barr said. It has “betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuelan institutions. While the Venezuelan people suffer, this cabal lines their pockets with drug money and proceeds of the corruption. This has to come to an end.”
The indictment means that Maduro would be subject to arrest if he leaves Venezuela. The U.S. State Department immediately put a $15 million reward on his head.
Barr would not discuss whether the administration might attempt to extradite Maduro — or extract him in a military operation.
Asked if this action during a global pandemic, which Venezuela is woefully ill-equipped to confront, would be counterproductive, Barr said in fact it might free up humanitarian aid to Venezuelans, which the administration has alleged Maduro’s government is blocking.
The Trump administration has sought for more than a year to oust Maduro while the country plunges into economic decay. But the effort has repeatedly floundered. The administration does not recognize Maduro and has thrown its support behind Juan Guaido, head of the opposition.
Charges were also filed against nearly a dozen other Venezuelan government officials, including the head of the Supreme Court and military commanders, who were allegedly part of a drug-trafficking effort which started more than a decade ago under the government of the late Hugo Chavez.
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