Guy Farmer: Venezuela’s president is an accused drug trafficker

Let's not think or write about coronavirus today. So here's a story that would have been big news had the coronavirus crisis not been dominating the headlines: The U.S. Justice Department last week charged the illegitimate president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, and four of his top aides with drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption.

"Illegitimate" because more than 50 countries, including the United States, recognize legislative leader Juan Guaidò as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Maduro, a former bus driver, became "president" when ex-dictator/president Col. Hugo Chavez died in 2013 and has remained in office ever since with military support and a series of fraudulent elections, most recently in early 2019.

"The Maduro regime is awash in corruption and criminality," U.S. Attorney General William Barr said as he announced the indictments. "While the Venezuelan people suffer, this cabal lines their pockets with drug money and the proceeds of their corruption."

"Under Venezuelan leadership, Caracas prioritized cocaine as a weapon against America," added a Justice Department spokesman.

This hits home for me because I lived and worked in Venezuela for seven years during my diplomatic career and my beautiful daughter, Maria, was born in Caracas.

How bad are things in Venezuela, which Chavez once envisioned as a "socialist paradise," like Cuba? Things are so bad that mothers sell their babies in order to feed their families. According to the Wall Street Journal, "The Venezuelan economy has crumbled (down more than 60 percent in the past five years) and 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country, creating a migratory crisis in South America."

On a personal note, I fear that two of my Venezuelan friends, highly respected journalists, are living under house arrest if they're still alive.

The U.S. government last Tuesday promised economic aid for Venezuela if Maduro agreed to hand over power to a transitional government headed by Guaidò.

"We think it presents an opportunity for the Venezuelan people," said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. However, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza rejected the plan, saying his government wouldn't be forced into regime change by a "foreign power."

Unsurprisingly, Guaidò endorsed the U.S. proposal and said it could "open the country to more than $1 billion in foreign aid." For starters, our State Department has offered $15 million for the capture of Maduro and $10 million for the capture of each of the other indicted officials, including Diosdado Cabello, head of the dictatorship's so-called "constituent assembly."

American officials assert that over two decades Chavez, Maduro and their co-defendants established a military-linked drug cartel with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which the U.S. has labeled as "a terrorist guerilla group."Among those indicted is Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino.

In a hard-hitting editorial, the Wall Street Journal opined that the indictments "raise the stakes for dictator Nicolas Maduro and his Cuban backers, who continue to oppress Venezuelans even as the Coronavirus spreads to Latin America. … The indictments mean that Mr. Maduro can be arrested anywhere for trial in America and sends an important signal to the people of Venezuela that the U.S. supports their democratic aspirations."

"Democratic socialist" Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who's running for president as a Democrat, has praised Cuba, a communist dictatorship, for childhood brainwashing schemes disguised as "literacy programs." These programs have been run for many years by the Castro brothers, the late Fidel and Raul, who have murdered thousands of their fellow citizens for opposing their totalitarian regime.

That's what's going on in Cuba and Venezuela as the rest of the world battles the coronavirus pandemic. My heart goes out to my Venezuelan friends.

Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal's senior political columnist.


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