MIAMI (AP) – The Trump administration will announce indictments against Venezuelaâ€™s Nicolas Maduro and members of his inner circle for effectively converting Venezuela’s state into a criminal enterprise at the service of drug traffickers and terrorist groups, according to four people familiar with the situation.
The indictments from prosecutors in Miami and New York, which will encompass money-laundering and drug-trafficking charges, will be announced at a news conference by U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday, according to the four, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the indictments ahead of their unsealing.
The U.S. is also expected to announce $25 million in rewards for information leading to the arrest or prosecution of Maduro and Diosado Cabello, head of the ruling socialist party. Thatâ€™s according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The State Department is expected to announce the reward offers at the same time the Justice Department goes public with the indictments, the officials said.
The indictment of a functioning head of state is highly unusual and is bound to ratchet up tensions between Washington and Caracas as the spread of the coronavirus threatens to collapse a health system and oil-dependent economy driven deep into the ground by years of corruption and U.S. sanctions.
The indictment of a functioning head of state is almost unprecedented and is bound to raise tensions between Washington and Caracas as the spread of the coronavirus threatens to collapse a health system and oil-dependent economy driven deep into the ground by years of corruption and U.S. sanctions.
Analysts said the action could boost Trumpâ€™s re-election chances in the key swing state of Florida, which he won by a narrow margin in 2016 and where Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans fleeing authoritarian regimes have political muscle.
But its unclear how it brings Venezuela any closer to ending a 15-month standoff between Maduro, who has the support of Russia and China, and the U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan GuaidÃ³. It also could fragment the U.S.-led coalition against Maduro if European and Latin American allies think the Trump administration is overreaching.
â€œThis kind of action does nothing to help a negotiated solution-something thatâ€™s already really difficult,â€ said Roberta Jacobson, who served as the State Departmentâ€™s top diplomat for Latin America until 2018.
Maduro, a 57-year-old former bus driver, portrays himself as an everyman icon of the Latin American left. Heâ€™s long accused the U.S. “empire” of looking for any excuse to take control of the worldâ€™s largest oil reserves, likening its plotting to the 1989 invasion of Panama and the removal of Gen. Manuel Noriega to face drug trafficking charges in Florida.
Barr and Elliott Abrams, the State Departmentâ€™s special envoy on Venezuela, are driving the hawkish U.S. stance toward Maduro much as they pushed for Noriegaâ€™s ouster in the late 1980s – Barr as a senior Justice Department official and Abrams as assistant secretary of state for Latin America.
U.S. officials see other parallels as well. Noriega transformed Panama into a playground for violent, international drug cartels while the Trump administration has accused Maduro and his military henchmen of harboring drug traffickers, guerrillas from Colombia and even Hezbollah, a designated terrorist group.
They also have accused government officials together with well-connected businessmen of stealing hundreds of billions of dollars from the state coffers, much of it from state oil giant PDVSA, which has seen its production plunge to a seven-decade low.