At the outset of the coronavirus briefing Wednesday evening, the Trump administration announced it is deploying U.S. Navy warships to the Caribbean in order to prevent “corrupt actors” and drug cartels from exploiting the pandemic to smuggle narcotics into the U.S.
Joined by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, and Attorney General William Barr, President Donald Trump announced that he is doubling U.S. military assets in the region to counter the “growing threat.” Destroyers, surveillance planes, and personnel will be sent close to Venezuela, sources told The New York Times.
The announced U.S. military operation will be the largest in the the hemisphere since the U.S. invaded Panama and ousted Gen. Manuel Noriega on drug charges. The legal justification for the Noriega invasion was written Barr, who also wrote the bounty justification against Maduro.
This operation comes after the U.S. indicted Venezuela’s President Maduro last week and placed a bounty on his head. Federal prosecutors accuse Maduro of using tons of cocaine as a “weapon” against the United States. The U.S. Department of State, through its Narcotics Rewards Program, is offering rewards of up to $15 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Maduro Moros. The U.S. also indicted a dozen current and former Venezuelan officials on charges of drug trafficking, corruption, and narco-terrorism conspiracy.
The Trump administration recognizes Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, and has not ruled out using military action to remove Maduro. The Trump administration insists there is no desire to entangle the U.S. in another foreign conflict, however.
Despite U.S. sanctions famously championed by Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton, Maduro remains in power in Venezuela.
Venezuela’s government “energetically rejects” the Trump administration’s announcement, saying it is a “desperate attempt to distract attention” from the United States’ incompetent handling of the coronavirus crisis. Maduro has also dismissed the criminal charges as racist and false.
“We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives,” Trump said at the coronavirus briefing.
“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,” said Esper. “The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro’s criminal control over the country.”