On March 26, the U.S. Justice Department filed criminal charges against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Moros. The charges include narcoterrorism, corruption and drug trafficking, among others, such as carrying and using weapons for narcoterrorist purposes. The charges carry sentences ranging from 20 years to life in prison.
The DOJ, in a press release, explained that the charges are because of Maduro’s alleged collaboration in drug trafficking activities over the past twenty years – that is, during the entire period that former President Hugo Chávez Frías was in power and time that Maduro has been in office – and the corruption of the State in order to facilitate such activities.
According to its statement, these illegal activities were carried out in coordination with the former Colombian guerrilla group FARC – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – which transported tons of cocaine from Colombia to Venezuela and then exported it to the United States through Honduran airspace.
As a result, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that they were offering up to $15 million for information leading to his capture. For Diosdado Cabello, President of the National Constituent Assembly, the reward is up to $10 million.
On March 31, the U.S. government made an offer to lower some of its economic sanctions against Venezuela in exchange for Nicolas Maduro‘s resignation from the presidency and the establishment of a model of transitional government, of which Juan Guaidó should not be a part either.
In light of the fall of oil prices, on which the Venezuelan economy is absolutely dependent, the lifting of economic sanctions and the reward offered are efforts to destabilize the circle closest to Maduro.
In a country with an economy in the deepest depression in Latin American history, the COVID-19 pandemic puts Venezuela in an even more delicate situation, in which the U.S. government hoped that the arrest warrant against Maduro would be the domino that would trigger the fall of all the others.
While the alarm bells about the so-called Cartel of the Suns have been ringing for years, the innocence or guilt of both President Maduro and his closest men will have to be determined either in court or in the history books.
Moreover, the accusations against Maduro claim that his alleged drug trafficking activities were carried out in association with the FARC guerrillas for twenty years. But this statement omits both the peace negotiations between the Colombian government between 2012 and 2016 and the signing of the Peace Agreement between the two parties in 2016.
Since the signing of the Peace Agreement, new drug trafficking groups have emerged in Colombia and dissident groups have indeed emerged, but it is no longer the same guerrilla group.
This, in a nutshell, would mean that if the illegal activities for which it is accused were true, the Suns cartel would have to diversify its relations over the last four years, and the picture painted by the Department of Justice would be incomplete.
The COVID policy
One of the explanations for why this whole movement was triggered right at this time is the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the context of a health emergency, in which President Trump has been strongly criticized for his management, showing an aggressive stance against the government of Nicolás Maduro may contribute to winning votes for Trump from the Venezuelan diaspora in the upcoming election.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, the Venezuelan population in the United States (both born in the country and naturalized) is mostly concentrated in the states of Florida, Texas and New York. If we take into account that the state of Florida concentrates 52% of the Venezuelan population in the United States (Florida has 11% and New York 4%), their vote takes on great relevance: it can define the results of a key state.
However, for the time being, Maduro’s power in Venezuela shows no sign of weakening. There are no signs that he will be betrayed by his allies, nor that he has any interest in leaving power.