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Drug indictments should force action against Venezuelan regime | American Enterprise Institute


The US federal indictments announced Thursday against each of the principal leaders of the narco-cabal in Caracas are more than justified and more than symbolic. It is quite literally inevitable that the ruling troika of Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, Tareck el-Aissami, military henchmen Vladimir Padrino-Lopez and Hugo Carvajal, and supreme court justice Maikel Moreno will be deposed, detained, and held accountable for their crimes. That will not be easy, but the indictments up the ante and force action.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela’s Supreme Court Maikel Moreno and Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello take part in the ceremony marking the opening of the new court term in Caracas, Venezuela January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

I have pressed the case for indictments for many years, including in a blog the day before they were announced, citing examples of many serious crimes. The threats posed by this illegitimate regime against US interests and allies in the Americas are serious and intolerable.

These indictments against 15
senior Venezuelan officials also make it impossible for the United States to
accept a political pact or phony elections that leaves Maduro or any of his
co-conspirators in place. No Venezuelan politician — or US or foreign diplomat —
can credibly advocate such an accommodation with indicted narcotraffickers.

Ruling out a negotiated solution puts hardliners on the spot. More energetic, creative, and decisive options are demanded to see that justice is served. Considering President Trump’s persistent campaign against Maduro and his cronies, that is precisely what he expects. This unprecedented bundle of criminal indictments should make it easier for the administration to attain congressional buy-in supporting covert action to pressure, splinter, and challenge the regime.

The criminal indictments will make it more complicated for Russia and China to continue to back Maduro and help him evade US sanctions. These thuggish regimes are not above criminal behavior, but they have been wary about their companies or banks handling Venezuelan narcodollars. Witnesses have told US investigators that Cubans in Venezuela — including a prominent member of Raúl Castro’s household — are involved in cocaine smuggling. The regime in Havana has dodged drug indictments for decades; that will get harder every day that it micromanages Venezuela.

Even democratic countries like
Canada, Argentina, and Mexico should find it harder to make the case for
negotiating with Maduro and his criminal band. Indeed, because every country in
the region is impacted very gravely by organized crime, the Venezuela
indictments bolster more effective regional action to confront Maduro and bring
his regime to justice.

As I suggested earlier this week, President Trump should authorize US law enforcement and security forces to work with Venezuela’s neighbors and US allies, Brazil and Colombia, to seal their land borders from terrorists and criminals. The US should consider maritime operations and a no-fly zone to choke off illicit drug and gold contraband and oil shipments evading US financial sanctions.

The hefty cash rewards for assistance in capturing Maduro and the others introduces a degree of doubt within the regime. These State Department rewards also remind all concerned that these criminals have targets on their backs.

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