For twenty years, right-wing extremists in Miami and Washington have been slandering the Venezuelan government, accusing it of drug trafficking and harboring terrorists without ever offering even a shred of evidence. They finally got their wish on Thursday, when the U.S. Department of Justice unveiled indictments against President Nicolás Maduro and 13 other current or former members of Venezuela’s government and military. In addition to the indictments, Attorney General William Barr offered a $15 million reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Maduro, as well as $10 million rewards for Diosdado Cabello (president of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly), Tarek El Aissami (vice president for the economy), Hugo Carvajal (former director of military intelligence) and Cliver Alcalá (retired general).
The indictment has backfired already. Hours after the announcement, Alcalá posted videos online that threaten to cause further splits in the opposition and could result in the arrest of Juan Guaidó. Before going into those details, however, it’s important to understand just how politically biased the charges are against Maduro et al.
The myth that Venezuela is a narco-state has already been debunked by the Washington Office in Latin America, a think tank in Washington that supports regime change, as well as by FAIR, 15 y Último, Misión Verdad, Venezuelanalysis and others. It cannot be denied that Venezuela is a transit country for cocaine, but as the maps above and below show, less than 7% of total drug movement from South America transits from Venezuela (the Eastern Caribbean region includes Colombia’s Guajira Peninsula). These maps, produced by the Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Southern Command, respectively, immediately raise questions as to why Venezuela is the country being targeted.
Of course, the charges have nothing to do with the drug trade; they are the latest escalation in the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure March.” The pretext is an alleged plot by the Venezuelan government to flood the United States with “somewhere between 200-250 metric tons of cocaine.” Although that figure might seem high, it’s important to understand the context. The United States is the world’s biggest consumer of cocaine and Colombia is the world’s biggest producer. On the other hand, Venezuela does not cultivate coca, does not produce cocaine and, according to the U.S. government’s own figures, less than 10% of global cocaine traffic transits through the country.
The U.S double standard about narco-states is not limited to Colombia. Honduras’s U.S.-backed president, Juan Orlando Hernández, was linked to drug trafficking in a U.S. court, yet this news did not warrant a major announcement by the DOJ, presumably because Hernández is a U.S. ally. Another U.S. ally, Guatemala, had six times as much cocaine flow through its territory as Venezuela.
Yet the Trump administration appears to have made a serious miscalculation by including the retired General Alcalá in the indictments. A former ally of ex-president Hugo Chávez, Alcalá joined the opposition in 2015 and has been linked to various coup plots and planned terror attacks since 2016. He is the highest profile former officer to turn against Maduro and is considered the “leader of pro-Guaidó military personnel.” Alcalá is now wanted both by the United States and by Venezuela.
Alcalá is implicated in a recent plot to attack the Maduro government. On March 24, Colombian authorities seized a truck full of weapons and military equipment, including 26 assault rifles, worth $500,000. Venezuelan intelligence services linked the weapons to three camps in Colombia where paramilitary groups of Venezuelan deserters and U.S. mercenaries are training to carry out attacks against Venezuela. According to Venezuela’s Communication Minister Jorge Rodríguez, these groups were planning to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to attack military units and plant bombs. He also linked the groups to Alcalá.
These allegations proved to be correct, as Alcalá, in a video he posted online hours after the indictments, admitted that the weapons were under his command. He further admitted that the weapons were purchased with funds given to him by Juan Guaidó, with whom he allegedly signed a contract. Additionally, Alcala claimed that the operation was planned by U.S. advisors, with whom he supposedly met at least seven times. Aclalá also alleged that Leopoldo López, the founder of Guaidó’s party Voluntad Popular who was sprung from house arrest during Guaidó’s April 30 attempted insurrection, had full knowledge of the terror plot.
As a result of these videos, Venezuela’s Attorney General has opened an investigation into Juan Guaidó for an attempted coup. Despite Guaidó’s self-proclamation as president in January 2019, his attempted insurrection in April 2019, his repeated calls for sanctions and a military invasion, Venezuelan authorities had refrained from moving against him. The U.S. indictments appear to have caused the Venezuelan government to issue its strongest response to the Trump administration’s and Guaidó’s continued provocations.