There is a story that is getting very little attention from the media currently obsessed with 24/7 anti-Trump Coronavirus stories. The United States has charged Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro Moros and 14 members of his regime and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) organization with narco-terrorism. Charges were filed in Washington. D.C., New York City and Miami.
In making the announcement, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said, “Today’s announcement is focused on rooting out the extensive corruption within the Venezuelan government – a system constructed and controlled to enrich those at the highest levels of the government. The United States will not allow these corrupt Venezuelan officials to use the U.S. banking system to move their illicit proceeds from South America nor further their criminal schemes.”
Maduro and the others were charged with:
- Participating in a narco-terrorism conspiracy, which carries a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life in prison.
- Conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, which carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life in prison.
- Using and carrying machine guns and destructive devices during and in relation to and possessing machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the narco-terrorism and cocaine-importation conspiracies, which carries a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life in prison.
- Conspiring to use and carry machine guns and destructive devices during and in relation to, and to possess machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the narco-terrorism and cocaine-importation conspiracies, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
As is the normal procedure in cases involving international criminals, the defendants will likely be tried in absentia – unless, of course, Maduro is brought back to the United States.
In a similar case to the charges against Maduro, the United States military forcibly captured Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega. He was tried in the United States, found guilty and served 17 of his 40-year prison sentence. He was then extradited to France, where he was found guilty of money laundering and sentenced to seven years in prison – where he died in 2017.
In the case of Joaquín Guzmán — known as El Chapo – the Mexican government honored the United States’ extradition request. He was tried in the United States, found guilty and is now serving life in prison — and was ordered to forfeit $12.6 billion.
Twelve Russians were indicted as part of the investigation of Russian election meddling by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It is unlikely that they will ever be brought to the United States to appear in trials.
Whether Maduro can avoid prison largely depends on events in Venezuela. While Maduro retains power, the former Venezuelan legislature and several foreign countries have declared that Juan Guaidó is now the legitimate head-of-state in the South American country. If Maduro can be toppled by the democratic forces, it is likely that the Guaidó government would eagerly turn Maduro over to the United States.
This indictment is more than just criminal charges. It helps to legitimatize Guaido’s claim to the presidency. In a rather complex situation, the Trump administration has been using diplomatic and economic pressure to force Maduro to step down by breaking his hold on the military. It is significant that a number of the indicted are associated with the military and FARC.
This action follows the $15 million reward on Maduro and another $10 million each on the heads of several military leaders. This is another step to persuade the generals to give up on their boss – maybe go into exile.
While the reduction of global oil prices imposed by Saudi Arabia in their feud with Russia has caused some problems for the American oil industry, they have hit hardest against two of the United States’ principal adversaries – Russia and Venezuela. Both nations rely heavily on oil income to sustain their economies.
This indictment should be seen as another escalation in the Trump administration’s efforts to oust Maduro.
So, there ‘tis.