US indicts Venezuela’s Maduro, a political foe, for ‘narco-terrorism’
WASHINGTON: The U.S. government on Thursday indicted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and more than a dozen other top Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism,” the latest escalation of the Trump administration’s pressure campaign aimed at ousting the socialist leader.
The State Department offered a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Maduro, whose country has been convulsed by years of a deep economic crisis and political upheaval.
The indictment, a rare U.S. action against a sitting foreign head of state, marks a serious new phase against Maduro by Washington at a time when some U.S. officials have privately said President Donald Trump is increasingly frustrated with the results of his Venezuela policy.
Attorney General William Barr, announcing the charges, accused Maduro and his associates of conspiring with a dissident faction of the leftist Colombian guerrilla group FARC “to flood the United States with cocaine.”
“While the Venezuelan people suffer, this cabal…lines their pockets,” Barr said of Maduro and the more than a dozen others who were indicted.
Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment. The U.S. government has previously lodged criminal indictments against members of Maduro’s family and inner circle.
He and his allies have dismissed such allegations as a smear campaign, and argue the United States is responsible for drug trafficking given its role as a leading consumer.
Maduro is already under U.S. sanctions and has been the target of a U.S. effort aimed at pushing him from power. He took office in 2013 after the death of his mentor President Hugo Chavez, a staunch U.S. foe.
Other Venezuelan officials whose indictments were announced on Thursday include Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, senior socialist leader Diosdado Cabello and the chief justice of the country’s supreme court, Maikel Jose Moreno Perez, 54, who was charged with money laundering.
The United States and dozens of other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate president. But Maduro has remained in power, backed by the country’s military and by Russia, China and Cuba. – Reuters