On April 1st, US President Donald Trump announced the launching of a “counter-narcotics operation” which would see the deployment of US Navy ships near Venezuela, after setting a $15 million bounty on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in relation to drug-terrorism accusations.
“Today, the United States is launching an anti-drug operation in the Western Hemisphere to protect the American people from the fatal scourge of drug trafficking,” Trump said at a press conference in the White House.
“As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus there is a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain,” said Trump. “We must not let that happen.”
“The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro and his criminal control over the country, and drug traffickers are seizing on this lawlessness,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said after the president’s announcement.
The deployment is one of the largest U.S. military operations in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama to remove Gen. Manuel Noriega from power and bring him to the U.S. to face drug charges.
It involves assets like Navy warships, AWACS surveillance aircraft and on-ground special forces seldom seen before in the region.
The goal is to nearly double the U.S. counter-narcotics capacity in the Western Hemisphere, with forces operating both in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific. Esper said the mission would be supported by 22 partner nations.
“If I was just indicted for drug trafficking by the United States, with a $15 million reward for my capture, having the U.S. Navy conducting anti-drug operations off my coast would be something I would worry about,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has been among those calling for a tougher stance against Maduro.
Venezuela’s communications minister, Jorge Rodriguez, called the deployment a “desperate attempt to distract attention from the tragic humanitarian crisis” in the U.S. caused by the coronavirus.
In a display of sarcasm, he also said that for “the first time” in decades, the U.S. is trying to limit the supply of cocaine, which mostly comes from Colombia, one of the U.S. allies in the region.
In statements following this announcement, President Maduro called on the Trump administration to stop meddling in the internal affairs of Venezuela and called for a “humanitarian agreement” between all the political actors in the country to deal with the real issue, which is the fight against COVID-19.
Nicholas Maduro had previously warned that the United States, Colombia, and Brazil were carrying out a plan for a sea and air blockade and a further invasion of Venezuela.
The report of the planned deployment comes two days after one of Venezuela’s naval patrol boats sank after colliding with a Portuguese-flagged cruise ship near the Venezuelan-controlled island of La Tortuga.
Maduro accused the ship of acting aggressively and said it was possibly carrying “mercenaries” seeking his ouster.
“You have to be very naive to see this as an isolated incident,” Maduro said.
The announcement came just one day after the US announced its Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela.
The US proposal calls for Maduro to “step aside” and for the opposition-controlled National Assembly “to elect an inclusive transitional government acceptable to the major factions”. This council of state would govern until it oversees elections, which Pompeo said the United States hoped could be held in six to 12 months.
It was categorically rejected by the Venezuelan government.
The Venezuelan Prosecutor General Tarek William Saab called for US-proclaimed Venezuelan President Juan Guaido to provide testimony on April 2nd as part of an investigation into an alleged coup attempt.
It is unlikely that Guaido would appear, and it could be that the US is ramping up pressure in order to guarantee that the horse they bet on remains in the race.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Offshore Patrol Vessel Of Venezuelan Navy Sunk After Collision With Passenger Ship
- U.S. Unveils “Democratic Transition Framework” For Venezuela, After Setting $15m Bounty On President Maduro