US moves warships against Venezuela’s Maduro …raises ante for democratic regime change

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro

In its years long effort to return democratic governance to Venezuela following last week’s indictment against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the United States has now moved its warship in the Caribbean region to guard against the “growing threat” from that Spanish-speaking nation.

According to a Reuters report, the Donald Trump Administration said on Wednesday that “it was deploying more US Navy ships to the Caribbean to prevent drug cartels and “corrupt actors” like Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to smuggle more narcotics.”

It said that President Trump said he was doubling U.S. military resources in the region, including vessels, aircraft and personnel, in a drug interdiction effort to deal with what he called a “growing threat.”

“The beefed-up operation will also entail sending Navy ships closer to Venezuela, according to a US official and two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But it was unclear how close they would get to the Venezuelan coast, the sources said,” Reuters reported.

U.S. President Donald Trump [January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque]
This report was published following the White House’s daily briefing on efforts to battle the pandemic on Wednesday, where Trump, joined by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, made the announcement at the start of the press conference.

The report comes one week after the U.S. charged Maduro and more than a dozen other senior government officials in Venezuela with “narco-terrorism”, drug trafficking and corruption.

Maduro has remained in power despite a wide-ranging U.S.-led campaign of sanctions and diplomacy, something U.S. officials have privately said is a source of frustration for Trump, the article stated.

It was noted that on Tuesday, however, The Trump administration offered to begin lifting Venezuela sanctions if the Opposition and members of Maduro’s Socialist Party form an interim government without him, marking a shift in U.S. policy.

Trump said, according to Reuters, that Wednesday’s move was needed because there is a “growing threat” that cartels and criminals will try to take advantage of the pandemic. “We must not let that happen,” he said.

“Corrupt actors like the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela rely on the profits derived from the sale of narcotics to maintain their oppressive hold on power,” Esper said in the article, which added, “The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro’s criminal control over the country.”

The naval deployment could ratchet up pressure on Maduro and his allies, but is not a prelude to US military action against Venezuela, Reuters reported one person familiar with the matter as saying.

Although Trump has insisted that all options are on the table against Maduro, the article noted that US officials have made clear there is little appetite for military force, which could entangle the United States in another foreign conflict.

Federal prosecutors last week accused Maduro and his alleged accomplices of shipping tons of cocaine into the United States each year, using the drugs as a “weapon.” Maduro dismissed the charges as false and racist.

According to Reuters, US officials have long accused Maduro and his associates of running a “narco-state,” saying they have used proceeds from drugs transshipped from neighbouring Colombia to make up for lost revenue from a Venezuelan oil sector hit by U.S. sanctions.

The United States and dozens of other countries have recognized Opposition Leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, regarding Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham.

But Maduro has remained in power backed by the country’s military and by Russia, China and Cuba.