US charges Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, 14 others with narco-terrorism, corruption and drug trafficking

Attorney General Barr announced the charges against Nicolas Maduro and 14 other Venezuelan officials at a press conference Thursday morning.

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela was indicted in the United States on Thursday in a narco-terrorism and cocaine trafficking conspiracy in which prosecutors said he led a violent drug cartel even as he amassed power…

In addition to Mr. Maduro, more than a dozen others were charged, including Venezuelan government and intelligence officials and members of the largest rebel group in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces, known as FARC, which has long drawn its financing from the cocaine trade.

The chief justice of Venezuela was also charged with money laundering and the country’s minister of defense with drug trafficking, Mr. Barr said. The charges were contained in four separate indictments, two filed in New York and one each in Miami and Washington, Mr. Barr said.

A DOJ press release outlined the allegations contained in the various indictments. It identifies Maduro as the leader of a cartel called Cartel of the Suns, which was a reference to an insignia on high ranking military officer’s uniforms:

Since at least 1999, Maduro Moros, Cabello Rondón, Carvajal Barrios and Alcalá Cordones, acted as leaders and managers of the Cártel de Los Soles, or “Cartel of the Suns.” The Cartel’s name refers to the sun insignias affixed to the uniforms of high-ranking Venezuelan military officials. Maduro Moros and the other charged Cartel members abused the Venezuelan people and corrupted the legitimate institutions of Venezuela—including parts of the military, intelligence apparatus, legislature, and the judiciary—to facilitate the importation of tons of cocaine into the United States. The Cártel de Los Soles sought to not only enrich its members and enhance their power, but also to “flood” the United States with cocaine and inflict the drug’s harmful and addictive effects on users in the United States…

In his role as a leader of the Cártel de Los Soles, Maduro Moros negotiated multi-ton shipments of FARC-produced cocaine; directed that the Cártel de Los Soles provide military-grade weapons to the FARC; coordinated foreign affairs with Honduras and other countries to facilitate large-scale drug trafficking; and solicited assistance from FARC leadership in training an unsanctioned militia group that functioned, in essence, as an armed forces unit for the Cártel de Los Soles.

The Associated Press points out that charges against Maduro are only possible because the U.S. and other countries around the world no longer consider him the legitimate leader of Venezuela:

Sitting foreign leaders normally enjoy immunity from prosecution under U.S. law and international norms.

But the U.S. is among 60 countries that no longer consider Maduro a head of state even if he does hold de facto power. They instead recognize Guaidó, the head of congress, as Venezuela’s rightful leader following the socialist’s re-election in a 2018 race marred by allegations of fraud and an opposition boycott.

Maduro has already responded to the new charges on Twitter. A translation of this reads, “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!”

There is a potential down side to this, which is that Maduro will now be able to revive his often-made claim that he is a victim of the United States. Of course he’s been saying that anyway for several years now, but these indictments will make his claims more credible. I don’t know that many people in Venezuela are really listening to him anymore, but given that he has de facto control of most of the media in the country, he’ll certainly have the opportunity to spread the message.

As for the connections to FARC guerrillas, those are really old news at this point. Ed wrote about this back in 2008 when Hugo Chavez was still in charge. More recently, a group of FARC fighters who had stopped fighting after a peace agreement announced they were returning to the battle. Colombia’s president immediately blamed Maduro, saying he was attempting to destabilize neighboring countries as a way to take some of the heat off his homegrown crisis. Those FARC rebels are discussed at length in this press conference by AG Barr.