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DOJ Charges Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro With Drug Trafficking


The U.S. government has charged Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro with drug trafficking. Attorney General Bill Barr announced the charges earlier this morning. Here he is.


WILLIAM BARR: The indictment of Nicolas Maduro and his co-defendants alleges a conspiracy involving an extremely violent terrorist organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, and an effort to flood the United States with cocaine.

KING: NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is following this story. Hey, Ryan.


KING: What is Maduro charged with exactly?

LUCAS: So Maduro is accused of narcoterrorism, basically. The attorney general said that Maduro is providing safe haven for a splinter of the Colombian group FARC, as he talked about in that clip that we heard there, to traffic huge amounts of cocaine into the United States. Now, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, also spoke at this news conference. He said that Maduro and his associates intended to flood the U.S. with cocaine to undermine the health and well-being of the United States. Berman said Maduro deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon.

Now, Maduro is certainly the highest-profile individual who was charged here today, but he isn't the only one. There are a number of other senior Venezuelan officials that Justice Department announced charges against. That includes the head of the country's constituent assembly, the former director of Venezuela's military intelligence, another former high-ranking military official and also a member of the Venezuelan supreme court. So this is alleging, basically, a vast conspiracy among the Maduro regime.

KING: Can we expect that Maduro or any of those other fellows will face trial in the United States?

LUCAS: That's certainly a big question that hangs over all of this. Barr was asked about this, the prospect of Maduro or any of those who have been charged ever seeing the inside of a U.S. courtroom, and what Barr said was, you know, we do expect to get custody of them at some point in time. A lot of these individuals do travel. There is reward money out to try to kind of move things along. The State Department today, for example, announced a $15 million reward for Maduro's capture. So there is money out there to try to kind of nudge this forward.

KING: The headline here, of course, is that it's Venezuela's president, right? So how unusual or usual is it for the U.S. to charge a foreign head of state like this?

LUCAS: It's rare for a foreign leader to be charged, but it's not totally unprecedented. Remember that the U.S. indicted the Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega a couple of decades ago. Barr said that they don't consider Maduro to be the president, the legitimate president of Venezuela. The U.S. has come out and essentially declared Maduro the illegitimate leader and has recognized, instead, the opposition leader, Juan Guaido. So Barr said, since the U.S. does not consider Maduro to be the president of Venezuela, the U.S. government has not done the same thing here as it did with Noriega.

KING: OK. And so what happens now?

LUCAS: Well, it remains to be seen, you know, how far along this is going to push things. Certainly, the relationship between the United States and Venezuela is rocky. The U.S., as I said, has been pushing for Maduro's ouster. Juan Guaido, who the U.S. announced that it was backing around a year ago, has struggled to get traction for greater support within Venezuela. It remains to be seen what sort of impact this is going to have going forward on U.S.-Venezuelan relations and, certainly, for Maduro himself.

KING: All right. NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.

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