U.S. indicts Venezuelan President Nicholás Maduro

The U.S. Department of Justice indicted Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, 57, and several members of his administration on several charges of drug-related crimes on March 26. Prosecutors accused Maduro of conspiring with the Colombian rebel group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FARC, to smuggle tons of cocaine into the United States. The charge is the first of its kind against a foreign leader in three decades. The DOJ is now offering a $15 million reward for information leading to Maduro’s arrest. The Trump Administration also announced the deployment of Navy ships to coastal waters off Venezuela in an effort to play a role in the counter-narcotics operation.

Following the death of former president Hugo Chávez in 2013, the Venezuelan people narrowly elected Maduro into office. Maduro vowed to continue his predecessor’s “socialist-inspired revolution,” according to the New York Times, which promoted government-sponsored housing, education and health programs by using the country’s plentiful oil revenues. Maduro instead led the country into its largest economic collapse.

Once one of the wealthiest countries in the region, Venezuela now stands among the poorest. “By May 2017, Venezuela’s minimum monthly wage wasn’t enough to meet even 12 percent of a single person’s basic food needs,” Enrique Krauze wrote. Some argue Maduro rapidly transitioned the country into an authoritarian regime. In 2018, Maduro was re-elected in an election deemed as “unsatisfactory” by many countries. Sanctions were put in place as part of an effort to pressure Maduro out of office. The United States and around 60 additional nations officially recognize Maduro’s opponent and leader of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó as the rightful President of Venezuela. The U.S. has accused Maduro and his government of “human rights abuses, torture, corruption, and paving the way for cartels, terrorist groups and traffickers to exploit the oil-swathed nation,” according to FoxNews. Maduro condemned Trump’s sanctions and called them the work of a “racist cowboy.” The tweet also accused the U.S. of intervening to get its hands on valuable Venezuelan oil reserves. In another Twitter rant, Maduro accused the U.S. and Colombia of giving the “order to fill Venezuela with violence.” The Trump administration insists that all options are on the table as far as the removal of Maduro from office. For now, President Trump maintains a close relationship with Guaidó, even inviting him as a guest to the Feb. 4 State of the Union Address. The U.S. has sent a strong message to Maduro that it will not tolerate any harm to Guaidó. For now, Maduro and Guaidó both claim to lead the country.

On one side, supporters of the indictments believe it was a necessary step to push Maduro out, particularly now during the COVID-19 pandemic. By teaming up with the United States, Guaidó promised the Venezuelan people to make millions of dollars of government funds available by unfreezing accounts controlled by the U.S. Many supporters of the sanctions believe Maduro’s socialist government is failing its people. Venezuelans can’t survive off of minimum wage, inflation in the country has reached 1 million percent, and nearly 16 percent of the country’s population have emigrated as of Dec. 2019, according to the National Review. The US hopes to use pressure-intensive actions to slow the regime’s finances and therefore dwindle Maduro’s power. Supporters believe the economic and political sanctions placed on Venezuela are an effective way to decrease Maduro’s support and encourage his resignation to make way for an optimistic Guaidó and a free, democratic nation.

On the other side, some believe the indictments placed on Maduro by the United States are going to backfire. The sanctions indicate that the Trump administration intends to resolve Venezuela’s problems without Maduro’s involvement, Geoff Ramsey, Venezuela director at the Washington Office on Latin America, told the New York Times. “There’s now a better chance these figures will further entrench themselves than seek any kind of deal,” Ramsey said. “Any hope of a soft landing has been torpedoed.” In addition, some on this side of the spectrum believe the U.S. has ulterior motives such as seeking to exploit Venezuelan oil reserves. Jen Kirby of Vox said she believes President Trump is “vilifying” socialism by decrying Venezuela’s government as a failure. “Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul,” Trump said at the Feb. 4 State of the Union Address. It is worth nothing that this indictment comes in the midst of the 2020 election. In addition, many believe the United States should stay out of the situation, comparing it to the nation’s involvement in Iraq and Libya. In addition, critics blasted the Trump administration for failing to provide aid to Venezuela refugees. NBC News predicts it to be the worst refugee crisis in 2020 and the “most underfunded in modern history.”

What we want to know at Quibbl:

Will Maduro resign by the end of August? Vote here.

Will the US lighten sanctions on Venezula in light of the coronavirus pandemic by the end of April? Vote here.

Will the US aid Venezuelan refugees with financial support be the end of July? Vote here.

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