By: Sarai Leon / Contributing Writer
On March 26, the United States Justice Department announced drug trafficking and narco-terrorism charges on the disputed President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro and other high ranking members of the Venezuelan government and military.
Although this is the first formal presentation of these crimes, this isn’t the first time that allegations like these are made. This is an ongoing process.
Attorney General William Pelham Barr, said that this has been a long time coming for the Venezuelan regime, which remains plagued by corruption.
“For more than 20 years, Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the FARC, causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities,” Attorney General Barr said.
Politics Professor Brian Fonseca, who directs FIU’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, also believes this is not a new revelation.
“I have no doubt that the indictments recently unsealed were years in the making,” Fonseca said. “You can even go back as far when Maduro’s nephews were indicted in New York. It was all part of this long investigation to detail in evidence links between the Venezuelan Government and illicit trafficking activity.”
Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, both nephews of Maduro and his wife, collaborated with a known member of the FARC and others in August of 2015 in an effort to import cocaine to the United States via private aircraft.
On November 18, 2016, Campo Flores and Flores de Freita were sentenced to 216 months in prison, by the Southern District of New York.
Politics Professor Eduardo Gamarra who directs FIU’s Latino Public Opinion Forum, said these allegations’ foundations are an old story that dates back to Hugo Chavez’s presidency.
“The Bush administration knew about it, the Obama administration knew about it, and clearly this administration inherited all of that information,” Gamarra said. “So yes, the information is old and it is still, in large measure, information that isn’t fully vetted.”
Gamarra said it would be difficult to make a case in court because it would not be easy to clearly establish a direct linkage between Maduro and the FARC. However, he said that it is very clear that those meetings have taken place with Maduro’s underlings and members of the cartels.
“We don’t know if [Maduro} is in charge but I suspect there is a lot of influence and power that comes with being a head of state,” Fonseca said. “I would caution in discounting his involvement entirely, but we have to wait for the evidence to determine the degree of his involvement.”
Fonseca said that the problem lies with the fact that everyone around Maduro is involved, and it shows that he is likely an enabler of serious magnitude.
“I would say that he is not the sole source of influence around the involvement of these networks,” Fonseca said. “There are influential people up and down the network that are important in sustaining it. Definitely Diosdado Cabello is an important figure.”
According to the US Justice Department, Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly, along with Maduro and others, acted as leaders and managers of the Cártel de Los Soles, or Cartel of the Suns, and facilitated the importation of cocaine into the United States.
“The whole idea of the Cartel de Los Soles was that they had the capacity to manage a lot of the logistical infrastructure for the trafficking,” Fonseca said. “They had access to the planes and had access to the border checkpoints.”
The timing of the unsealing of these allegations has also been a point of contention, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Coronavirus, Venezuela’s ongoing economic crisis, and a fractured healthcare system have slowed down political dissent and protests against the government.
“Hopefully the Venezuelan people will see what’s going and will eventually regain control of their country,” Barr said during the press conference for the announcement of the indictment.
Camila Castillo, a sophomore majoring in International Relations, left Venezuela during the 2014 protests in Caracas and said the people of Venezuela want a change of government but it would be difficult for them to mobilize now because of coronavirus.
“I understand why they did it, but at the same time people in Venezuela didn’t look at it that much,” Castillo said. “It was more like ‘Oh yeah this happened, now I have to go find food’.”
Castillo said she recalls the deaths of hundreds of people during the protests, so the remark made by Barr about regaining the country during a pandemic didn’t make sense to her.
“They don’t have water in their hospitals, and then you’re calling people to the streets to fight what?” Castillo said. “I understand the move, however I don’t think that message got to the Venezuelan people.”
After the first cases of coronavirus were reported in Venezuela, Maduro declared a public health emergency and suspended all public gatherings. Venezuelan paramilitary organizations known as Colectivos that are loyal to Maduro have also imposed curfews in certain neighborhoods.
Prachi Lalwani, a Venezuelan international student, is a sophomore studying International Relations and she said that the announcement of the allegations felt like justice for her in light of the economic crisis.
“They have done so much damage, they have separated so many families, they are causing people to starve, and they’re not doing anything,” Lalwani said. “This is justice to the Venezuelan people, who have been suffering so much.”
A week after the announcement of the indictment, the Trump administration announced it would send US Navy ships to the coast of Venezuela, in an effort to hinder any drug trafficking efforts.
“You don’t launch a military operation like that in a week or a month,” said Fonseca. “It normally takes months to do. So that operation by the United States was planned probably 4 to 6 months ago, in terms of their operational planning.”
On March 31, the State Department released a framework for transition, that if adopted will pave the way for an easing of the sanctions imposed on Venezuela. The framework calls for Maduro and Juan Guaido to cede power and for a five-person governing council to take over until elections.
The framework came about as a bargaining chip to lift sanctions that would help Venezuela with its current oil crisis and failing healthcare system that is being overwhelmed by COVID-19.
As far as what’s next for Venezuela, Pierina Anton, a junior majoring in international relations said that she hoped that allies in the region, such as Colombia and Brazil, would continue to put pressure on the Maduro regime.
“I don’t really think that Maduro will turn himself in or that someone else will turn him in because of the hold that he has with his supporters in the military and in the government,” said Anton. “In terms of the future of U.S.-Venezuelan Relations, I think if we were ever to get Maduro out, the United States has a strong commitment to helping rebuild Venezuela.”