March 31, 2020


Nicolás Maduro effectively converted Venezuela into a criminal enterprise at the service of drug traffickers and terrorist groups as he and his allies stole billions from the South American country, the Justice Department charged in several indictments made public [last] Thursday against the embattled socialist leader and his inner circle.” AP News

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From the Left

The left sees the indictments as a political move against Maduro, and calls for sanctions relief in light of the coronavirus.

“There’s no question that organized criminal elements, including drug-trafficking organizations and Colombian guerrilla groups, have penetrated state institutions in Venezuela. The allegations are not surprising given the clear corruption and authoritarianism of the Maduro regime, and they are serious. But the Trump administration’s rhetoric clearly isn’t. Venezuela is not a major transit country for drugs bound for the United States

“According to the U.S. interagency Consolidated Counterdrug Database (CCDB), 210 metric tons of cocaine passed through Venezuela in 2018. By comparison, in the same year about 10 times as much cocaine (2,370 metric tons) passed through Colombia, and seven times as much cocaine (1,400 metric tons) passed through Guatemala… So why is the Trump administration now raising the alarm about Venezuela ‘flooding’ the United States with cocaine, especially when the White House allowed anti-corruption efforts to die in more significant transit countries such as Honduras and Guatemala?”
Geoff Ramsey, Washington Post

“If there were anything that could force the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro and his opposition to work together, it might have been the coronavirus. With the pandemic closing in on a country woefully ill-prepared to confront it, the president’s opponents had begun to test the waters of negotiating with him, with the hope that cooperation on a plan to fight the virus might lead to wider political agreement or eventually even new elections. But this past week, the United States torpedoed that possibility…

“President Trump has from early in his administration been eager to undermine Maduro as a way to win votes in southern Florida, where many refugees from Venezuela and its close ally Cuba tend to vote for conservative Republicans. He has been frustrated his team has not made more progress in ousting the socialist leader. ‘It’s difficult not to see an explicit political motive here [in the indictments]: maximize all possible pressure on the regime when they are hanging by a thread,’ said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American program at the Wilson Center, a non-partisan think tank in Washington.”
Mery Mogollon, Tracy Wilkinson, and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times

“Mr. Maduro is already using Mr. Trump’s move to bolster his support domestically and internationally. Countries including Mexico and Argentina, which are sympathetic to the Venezuelan regime, may call the charges exaggerated and cite international law to defy Washington. Mr. Maduro will keep denying the accusations, and claim the action against him is typical American interventionist meddling and extraterritorial application of its domestic legislation…

“Manuel Noriega was a U.S. toady before the George H.W. Bush’s administration turned on him. Saddam Hussein bore the brunt of two American invasions before his execution. It does not seem likely that Mr. Trump would be willing to pay such a steep price for Mr. Maduro’s demise. The Cubans, who play a crucial role in supporting the Maduro regime, have some experience in dealing with American hostility, warranted or not. The Castro brothers have outlasted 12 American presidents; Hugo Chávez and Mr. Maduro have outlasted four, if we include most of Mr. Trump’s first term. The new measure, however valid on its merits, is not likely to alter the scoreboard.”
Jorge G. Castañeda, New York Times

Meanwhile, “The administration has shown little interest in measures to help Iran and Venezuela address the pandemic… [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo is right that Iran and Venezuela have squandered tens of billions of dollars on corruption, repression, and other malign activities that could have been used to fight the pandemic. But the reality right now is that sanctions should not compound human suffering by denying Iran and Venezuela the chance to purchase needed medical supplies, especially since dedicated humanitarian payment mechanisms can ensure that the funds are used only for that specific purpose.”
Peter Harrell, The Hill

“On paper, the unilateral U.S. sanctions say that medical supplies are exempt. But this is an illusion. Neither Venezuela nor Iran can easily buy medical supplies, nor can they easily transport it into their countries, nor can they use them in their largely public sector health systems… If any firm trades with Venezuela's public sector, it could face secondary sanctions… When the U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked about the half-million Iraqi children who died because of U.S. sanctions, she said that those deaths were a price worth paying. They were certainly not a price that the Iraqis wanted to pay, nor now the Iranians or the Venezuelans, or indeed the majority of humankind.”
Vijay Prashad and Paola Estrada, Salon

From the Right

The right supports the indictments and urges the Trump administration to maintain pressure on the Maduro regime.

The right supports the indictments and urges the Trump administration to maintain pressure on the Maduro regime.

“Maduro and his accomplices have caused millions of Venezuelans' suffering and have also devastated American communities with their drugs… Some people might think this action makes America the ‘world’s policeman’ and might be concerned by it as a result. But it doesn’t. As Barr noted, these people broke American laws and attempted to import hundreds of metric tons of cocaine to the United States, an amount large enough to kill millions of people. It’s not policing the world to enforce U.S. law…

“Maduro should take note that the last time a foreign dictator was charged in the U.S. was in 1988, when Manuel Noriega of Panama was charged with very similar crimes. Noriega was captured in less than two years and ended up in an American prison.”
Daniel Di Martino, Washington Examiner

“While the Obama administration did next to nothing, Hugo Chávez consolidated a dictatorship and aided narcoterrorists to torment the US ally Colombia. Drug traffickers partnered with kingpins in Caracas have decimated democratic institutions and strangled honest commerce in Central America…

Venezuela has become a regional hub of transnational organized crime — a lawless global network with $2.2 trillion in annual revenue. Narcotraffickers from Mexico and Colombia; henchmen from Cuba, Russia, China, and Iran; and terror groups from Colombia and the Middle East all derive money and power from Venezuela… It is time to unsheathe indictments and unleash tough security measures to bring criminals to justice.”
Roger F. Noriega, American Enterprise Institute

“These indictments are designed to put more pressure on Venezuelan military figures to abandon Maduro and put the legitimate interim president, Juan Guaido, in power. Maduro has been steadily escalating against Guaido this year, so increased questions were being asked as to how resolute the Trump administration was in its support for the interim president. These indictments confidently answer those questions… it is also important that the indictments do not focus on active uniform military officers who are heavily involved in the drug trade. The intended U.S. implication in turning a blind eye to these officers is that generals who now abandon Maduro can hope to avoid future U.S. criminal sanctions…

“But these indictments alone will not remove Maduro from power. More U.S. action will be needed if the generals are to decide to move against the pretender president. That means the U.S. should take decisive action, as requested by Guaido, to prevent Maduro's oil supplies from reaching Cuba. If Cuba is forced to abandon Maduro, his ability to intimidate and consolidate the military into his continued support will collapse. Still, these indictments are, in and of themselves, good news. They clarify America's position on Venezuela in a way that best serves our national interests and theirs.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“The dual problem of the coronavirus pandemic and the collapse in oil prices have managed to create in two short weeks what a concerted American sanctions campaign could not achieve, which is a potential knockout blow to the Venezuelan legal economy. The illicit economy in illegal gold and drug trafficking, of course, will continue to grow at an alarming rate… The United States needs to stay vigilant against the regime and trust the external conditions improve its odds of success. Under these conditions, if the American government fails to achieve its goals of deposing Maduro and imposing democratic elections in Venezuela, then it might never achieve them in the end.”
Ryan C. Berg, The Hill

Some, however, argue that “With the coronavirus epidemic now beginning to impact an under-resourced and unprepared Venezuelan hospital system, regime change in Caracas would serve no purpose other than introducing a greater degree of anarchy inside the country. That, in turn, would result in more refugee flows, more humanitarian disaster within Venezuela's borders, and more destabilization in the region at large…

The best way Washington can contribute is by getting out of the way, allowing its Latin American partners to take the lead in facilitating a diplomatic formula acceptable to both sides, and providing humanitarian aid to neighboring countries (like Colombia) that are in the unenviable position of managing the migration flows. Filing criminal charges against Nicolas Maduro may be emotionally satisfying for the investigators and prosecutors who have been working on this case. But in terms of foreign policy, this action seeks to replace one problem with another, a mistake that will have unintended humanitarian, political, and diplomatic repercussions.”
Daniel R. DePetris, Newsweek

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