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Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department indicted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on drug trafficking charges, naming him as the leader of an international drug cartel.
“This is Maduro, the leader of the Cartel of the Suns,” a DOJ spokesman said Thursday, pointing to a picture of the dictator.
The U.S. has waged a long campaign against Maduro’s leadership in Venezuela, accusing him of holding a sham election and refusing to give up power to Juan Guaido, who the U.S. says is the rightful president. The indictment also names several other top officials in the country, and refers to Maduro as the “former president of Venezuela.” The others include Venezuela’s vice president for the economy, Venezuela’s Minister of Defense, and Venezuela’s Chief Supreme Court Justice. Maduro rejected the charges on Twitter.
“There’s a conspiracy from the United States and Colombia and they’ve given the order of filling Venezuela with violence,” he said. “As head of state I’m obliged to defend peace and stability for all the motherland, under any circumstances.”
Being in Venezuela, Maduro has not been taken into custody, but the DOJ has put out a $15 million reward for his capture or conviction should he travel to another country.
The U.S. has also taken the opportunity to officially designate Venezuela a terror state, according to the Miami Herald.
Venezuela has been in turmoil for months after Guaido held secret talks in early 2019 between high-ranking officials and revolutionaries within Maduro’s regime in hopes of peacefully removing him from power and installing an interim government.
When those negotiations broke down, Guaido called for mass protests, and the international community refused to recognize Maduro as the rightful president. The Venezuelan military remained loyal to Maduro, however.