(CNSNews.com) – Nicolás Maduro, indicted in the U.S. for narco-terrorism, issued a written appeal to world leaders for support Monday in the face of what he characterized as a U.S. conspiracy linked to an aborted coup attempt.
Maduro, whom the U.S. and more than 50 other governments no longer recognize as Venezuela’s president, said he wanted to draw attention to “the reckless and criminal steps that the Donald Trump administration is taking,” despite and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department unsealed an indictment accusing Maduro of a conspiracy with Colombia’s FARC rebels, dating back to 1999, to “flood the United States with cocaine.” Indictments were also unsealed against other senior current or former regime officials.
FARC, a Marxist group designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in 1997, waged a half-century long bloody insurgency before striking a peace deal with the Colombian government in 2017.
A sizeable dissident group continues to operate, and two FARC leaders were among the group whose indictments were unsealed last week.
The U.S. also took the unusual step Thursday of offering a reward – of $15 million – for the capture of a politician still regarded as a legitimate president by scores of governments and treated as such by United Nations agencies.
Maduro’s initial response to the indictments was a defiant one, labelling President Trump in a televised address as a “miserable human being” and a “racist cowboy.”
The day after the indictment announcement another of the indicted men, retired army general Cliver Alcala, handed himself over to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Colombia, and was reportedly flown to the U.S.
Alcala broke with Maduro earlier and had been living in exile in Colombia since 2018. Before he surrendered, he posted a message online claiming responsibility for a cache of 26 U.S.-made rifles and armored gear, seized by Colombian police in a van on March 23.
Alcala said they were to have been used for a mission to topple Maduro, a plan to be carried out on behalf of Juan Guaido, the opposition leader whom the U.S. and more than 50 other countries regard as Venezuela’s interim president.
In his letter to world leaders, Maduro pointed to Alcala’s statement and suggested that the U.S. indictments had been hurriedly arranged as cover to “rescue” Alcala after his purported coup plot was stymied.
Maduro said the indictments had included Alcala’s name, “as though he were among Venezuelan authorities and not a mercenary hired by the United States to carry out a terrorist operation against the Venezuelan government.”
In fact U.S. investigators have been after Alcala and others among the indicted Venezuelans for years.
“This indictment is the culmination of over a decade of work by our office and the DEA’s Special Operations Division,” Geoff Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said when the indictments were unsealed. “This case took many years to build.”
As long ago as 2011 the U.S. Treasury Department designated Alcala for sanctions under the Kingpin Act for abusing his position “to establish an arms-for-drugs route with the FARC.”
It remains to be seen what response Maduro’s letter will bring, but key allies have already spoken out in support.
“I condemn the U.S. immoral drug-trafficking accusation against president Nicolas Maduro and Venezuela, which is based on brazen lies,” tweeted Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. “Even in times of COVID-19, the US government proves to be the main threat to peace and tranquility in Our America.”
“Such statements are absurd and outrageous,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said of the indictments. “At a time when the entire world is joining efforts in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, Washington is carrying on its political bullying of a sovereign state.”
“China always opposes any outside force that, under any pretext, infringes on Venezuela’s sovereignty and interferes in its internal affairs, and strongly opposes illegal unilateral sanctions,” said a foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi expressed outrage that the U.S. would offer a reward “for the arrest of the head of a foreign government.”
“The U.S. government’s unilateralism and shameless enforcement of domestic law beyond borders have reached its climax.”
One of the other men targeted in the indictments, former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal, was a former loyalist of the late Hugo Chavez who broke with Maduro during last year’s political turmoil, expressed support for Guaido and was ejected from the military.
Carvajal went to Spain, where he was arrested at the request of the United States. After a Spanish court ruled last November that he could be extradited to the U.S. he went into hiding, but Reuters reported on Sunday that he was discussing his possible surrender to U.S. authorities.
The Treasury Department designated Carvajal more than a decade ago for helping FARC’s narcotics trafficking activities.
Another individual of note is Tareck El Aissami, a minister of justice and interior under Chavez and vice president under Maduro. The Treasury Department designated him as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker in 2017 under the Kingpin Act.
In the newly unsealed indictments, he stands accused of a series of crimes designed to circumvent U.S. sanctions targeting Maduro.
However El Aissami, a Venezuelan of Syrian origin, has also long been seen as a link man between Latin American drug cartels and the Iranian terror proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, also an FTO since 1997.
Like FARC, Hezbollah generates revenue through narcotics trafficking.
In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2015, Center for a Secure Free Society executive director Joseph Humire said El Aissami “helped Hezbollah funnel funds to the Middle East and fly foreign fighters to Latin America, operating clandestinely through the region.”
“Over the years, El Aissami developed a sophisticated, multi-layered financial network that functions as a criminal-terrorist pipeline bringing militant Islamists into Venezuela and surrounding countries, and sending illicit funds and drugs from Latin America to the Middle East,” Humire said.