U.S. Justice Department Charges Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro With Drug Trafficking, Corruption

The DOJ has accused Maduro of using "cocaine as a weapon" to devastate American cities.


It's a sign of the times that the U.S. government indicting a foreign head of state on drug trafficking charges is almost a side story in today's news cycle.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it was indicting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on charges related to drug trafficking and corruption. The DOJ is also offering a $15 million reward for information that leads to Maduro's arrest or conviction.

"For more than 20 years, Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the [Colombian rebel group] FARC, causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities," said U.S. Attorney General William Barr in a statement. "Today's announcement is focused on rooting out the extensive corruption within the Venezuelan government."

The DOJ also announced charges against more than a dozen other individuals, including the Chief Justice of Venezuela's Supreme Court and the country's defense minister. The Washington Post reports that Maduro could face a 50-year mandatory minimum prison sentence if extradited to the U.S. and convicted.

For his part, Maduro has dismissed the charges against him, saying on Twitter that they are part of a U.S. and Colombian conspiracy to destabilize his country.

Charging another head of state with drug trafficking is extraordinary, but not entirely unprecedented. In 1988, Panamanian military dictator Manuel Noriega was indicted on federal drug and money laundering charges. He was ousted from power by a U.S. invasion the following year, and was later convicted and imprisoned in the U.S.

As the Washington Post notes, "Venezuela's far better-equipped military and Russian support for Maduro would complicate any U.S. attempt to take him into custody the same way."

It's true that President Donald Trump has spent the last few years trying to oust the Venezuelan leader. Throughout 2018, his administration tightened sanctions on Venezuelan government officials and the country's state-controlled oil sector. In January 2019, Trump went so far as to recognize opposition leader, National Assembly President Juan Guaido, as interim president.

That latter move lessens the diplomatic consequences of today's indictments, as officially the U.S. does not recognize Maduro as Venezuela's leader.

In July of that year, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report detailing the Maduro government's use of arbitrary arrests, torture, and death squads to maintain power in the economically devastated country.

It's nevertheless worrisome that the U.S. government is relying on unjust drug laws to make that happen. While the DOJ's press release accuses Maduro and his cronies of using "cocaine as a weapon" against American cities, the domestic effects of our own domestic war on drugs have been far more devastating. Without the massive black market created by drug prohibition, crooked communist governments would have to find some other illicit activity to keep their regimes afloat.

The timing of these indictments is also worrying. Right now, everyone is focused on how best to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the related economic fallout. The DOJ's action is, therefore, setting off fewer alarm bells than it normally would.

Nevertheless, the consequences of trying to indict a foreign leader are going to be felt long after this current crisis subsides.

NEXT: Joe Biden Said He Believes All Women. Does He Believe Tara Reade?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Well at least he’s switching targets away from indefinite detention of Americans to irrelevant non-detention of a Venezuelan

    1. I just bought a brand new BMW after having made $6375 this past one month and just over 12k last 4 week. This is the best and most financially rewarding job I’ve ever had. I actually started this few Weeks ago and almost immediately started to bring home minimum 74BUCKS p/h… Read More

  2. Christ, what a bunch of assholes.

    1. I just bought a brand new BMW after having made $6375 this past one month and just over 12k last 4 week. This is the best and most financially rewarding job I’ve ever had. I actually started this few Weeks ago and almost immediately started to bring home minimum 74BUCKS p/h… Read More

  3. “Look at the monkey!!”

    1. Maduro has been squirreling away millions of dollars he’s stolen in private accounts in Europe and the Cayman’s.
      This makes him too hot for the banks.

      I’m pretty sure Britischgi knows this, I can’t imagine why he failed to mention it.

  4. You know who else used cocaine as a weapon?

    1. Coca-Cola?

    2. Atahuallpa brought a coca leaf to a sword fight.

    3. Mitch McConnell’s detractors?

    4. Mark Twain?
      Dziga Vertov?
      Dr Pepper?
      F Scott Fitzgerald?
      Brenda Dean?
      Evo Morales?
      William Jennings Bryan?

    5. Sherlock Holmes?

      No wait, it was Sigmund Freud!

  5. The DOJ is also offering a $15 million reward for information that leads to Maduro’s arrest or conviction.

    As opposed to invading Venezuela and deposing Maduro?

    1. This just heartbreaks the left who are absolutely desperate to call Orange Hitler a ‘warmonger’ for something… anything. They were so hopeful about Iran a couple of months ago, but that’s looking like a bust.

      This pisses off the neocon NeverTrumpers at the Bullwank as well. How dare he not ‘liberate’ Caracas.

    2. Psst, I heard he’s in Venezuela.

    3. So far Maduro and the rest of the Venezuelan government don’t seem to be on the same level of stupid as Noriega and the Panamanian legislature were in 1989.

      From you own link

      On 15 December, the Panamanian general assembly passed a resolution declaring that a state of war existed between Panama and the United States.[23][24][25]

      Five days before we invaded, they declared war on us.

    4. Operation Just Because.

  6. So is this just a legal thing as a prelude to declaring him a terrorist and having the CIA drone-strike his ass? It’s bad enough the DoJ claims that US law applies world-wide and that they have universal jurisdiction, but claiming they have the right to declare war on and execute anybody they please should really be a much more revolting (literally) idea to American citizens. It’s sad that people don’t really know much about the Kim Dotcom case or the Microsoft Ireland case, it’s really astounding the amount of power the DoJ claims they have.

    1. So is this just a legal thing as a prelude to declaring him a terrorist and having the CIA drone-strike his ass?

      Wouldn’t object myself. Drone-striking socialist strongmen responsible for mass starvation seems to me to be a nice, relatively inexpensive deterrent to being a socialist strongman responsible for mass starvation.

      And it’s not like it would set a bad precedent; those are already set. “Are you a US citizen and minor whose dad got on Obama’s shit list?” for example.

    2. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. Where the hell does the DOJ get off claiming that they have jurisdiction in another country? Seems to be a common theme amongst superpowers, the British did much of the same stuff back when they ruled the world (“recruiting” our sailors forcibly off of our ships while at sea, for example)

      1. It’s long been a principle of criminal law that a state has jurisdiction, not only over crimes actually committed in its territory, but also those that have effects in that territory. Thus, if I fire a rifle from Manhattan and kill a person standing on the shore in New Jersey, I can be charged with murder in both New Jersey and New York. (In a not-quite-similar situation, Aaron Burr was charged with murder in both states after killing Alexander Hamilton.) For decades, manufacturers in remote parts of the world have been surprised to find themselves under investigation by DOJ’s Antitrust Division, because their products were sold in the United States.

        And it works in the other direction as well. Many a merger of U.S. firms who sell goods or services abroad has been held up by the need to get approval from the EU’s competition authorities.

        Often, DOJ’s assertion of jurisdiction over foreigners is just a lot of sabre-rattling, because DOJ knows there’s no practical way to bring the targets to trial. Robert Mueller was therefore a little surprised when, after he indicted a bunch of Russian firms and individuals for meddling in the 2016 election, at least one of the firms hired U.S. counsel and challenged the indictment. (An individual would have made more trouble, as he or she would probably have had to appear personally before the court.)

        1. It’s long been a principle that you can not prosecute the head of state of another country while he is in office, or for his actions as head of state even after he leave office (with very few exceptions). Maybe the US government does not think that Maduro is still the head of state of Venezuela ? Or just don’t give a damn about international custom and law.

          1. Really? Tell that to Pinochet. Didn’t seem to stop Spain from hounding the guy until his death. Or Noriega.

            The Philippines would’ve tried Marcos, or Haiti Baby Doc, if the US hadn’t stepped in.

  7. Is that guy trying to look like Saddam Hussein?

    1. Bad mustache contest with Gillespie.

    2. No that was John Bolton.

    3. You’re all wrong. He’s channeling Geraldo

  8. This is practically the same playbook as Panama.

    1. Holding Americans prisoner (he is)
    2. We accuse him of drug trafficking.
    3. Next – Maduro refers to a state of war in a politcal speech
    4. We invade.

    1. 5. Economy collapses 1987-1991.
      6. FATF formed to weaponize asset forfeiture
      7. Economy collapses again 2008
      8. Flash Crash May 6 2010
      9. Flash Crash March 18, 2015
      10. Fatf Week Crash Feb 20, 2020

    2. Well, they also have oil. Just let the US military know that, and they’ll crash into Venezuela like the kool-aid man through a wall, oh yeah!

      1. About the worst kind of oil there is—very heavy, filled to the gunwales with sulfur, and I think there’s only one or two refineries worldwide that can actually work with the stuff. But they sit on a veritable lake…no, check that, an ocean of it. 300 billion barrels, per latest estimates, the world’s largest.

      2. We don’t need their oil.

  9. 1989 called, it wants its Panama policy back. Yanqui Stay Home!

    1. Can we get it to take that stupid Van Halen song back too?

      1. You’re going to have to be more specific.

        1. Anything after Van Halen II.

  10. “causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities”

    Foreign cocaine roaming the streets, jumping up the noses of innocent Americans!

    1. The proggies want to spend billions on rails.

    2. Strippers and whores hardest hit.

  11. Wasn’t Noriega’s “cocaine” tested & came back as “Tortillas”?

  12. “Today’s announcement is focused on rooting out the extensive corruption within the Venezuelan government.”

    I don’t suppose we could maybe do something about rooting out the extensive corruption within our own government? They could maybe start with charging Dianne Feinstein and all the other Senators who sold millions in stocks just before the stock market cratered based on information from classified briefings on the coronavirus with insider trading. Just one possibility.

  13. Maduro is definitely making the ‘white power’ hand sign.

    1. I thought maybe he was trying to make the in and out hand sign but the microphone got in the way.

    2. That’s white powder. The coca leaf cures carpal tunnel syncrome. The powder cures malaria mainly because quinine is a popular cut. Watch it turn out to be a cure for Communivirus!

  14. They’re setting it up for a Panama style invasion and overthrow. How can you opposed a military action against a terrorist you Sissy? And of course no congressional declaration of war is necessary.

    1. Naw. They’re just making it harder for Maduro to keep dumping millions of dollars in private accounts in Europe and the Cayman Islands.
      This makes him risky for banks.

  15. Noriega was HW Bush’s guy in Central America when he was running the CIA and the only threat he posed to the US was embarrassing POTUS. But that was enough for the DOJ to claim jurisdiction and for Bush to invade Panama. Maduro is an asshole but he’s not our fucking problem. If this bullshit is a prelude to a Bush style invasion I may become infected with TDS.

    1. That’s not TDS. Instead you’d have a legit reason to be anti-Trump.

    2. It won’t.
      It’s to make it harder for him to hide the money he’s stolen from the Banco Central de Venezuela and from selling off Venezuelan assets.

  16. No, no foreign head of state or President of Venezuela was indicted.

    The illegitimate head of the junta in Caracas was indicted.

    This is not exactly a subtle distinction, as the state departments/foreign ministries of Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Montenegro, Morocco, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, St. Lucia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States could all explain.

  17. 15 Million huh? … Today, still wanted by the government they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them….

  18. I finally understood the appeal of Maduro’s Chavismo. His 3-minute men are doubtless scampering up and down touting: re-elect Maduro! He Kept Us Out Of The War on Plant Leaves!
    To them it’s our 1916 all over again, Harrison Act, warmongers and all.

    1. The appeal? The appeal is the same appeal of Kim’s North Korea: if you’re one of the inner circle or a military officer, you avoid starving like everyone else. We’re talking about a place where some 85% hate their government and either has already escaped the country or are hoping their relatives who have managed to get out can find a way to help them escape, too. When you take wealthy country and transform it into a place where you can’t even buy a light bulb, toilet paper, or baby food, and people who used to dine very well resort to eating zoo animals, there is zero appeal. Take it from someone who has many friends and acquaintances who decamped from Venezuela. Maduro is a piece of excrement who should choke on the same.

  19. Ordinarily I would object, but screw Maduro. He should drop dead for what he’s done to his country. I hope the coke stops his black heart.

  20. Okay, I get Reason’s thing about legalizing drugs (which I have no real objection to) but FARC is a fairly fucked up organization.

    1. It’s been (strongly) suggested Madora has been using FARC and Hezbollah to act as enforcers for his regime.

    2. is the FARC still even a thing though? I know that things got pretty damn bad, but I was under the impression that their numbers had gone down and that they’d made a peace deal. With the exception of a few hardliners I thought they had settled down.

  21. Now Google pays me $ 22,000 to $ 32,000 a month for work from home online. Last month I received $ 27,496 on my paypal online payroll. This task is online and very easy to do part time or even full time. No special experience is required for this job chek detail==► Read More

  22. Drug laws are far, far more harmful to the health and safety of our citizens than the drugs. We should lock up the people who imposed upon our socieity the dangerous, deadly drug war, and its necessary consequence, violent and criminal gangs, huge expenditures for “law enforcement,” and police ignoring actual crime to go after drugs. Locking up Maduro will not do our country any more good than locking up Noriega did. Make America safe again! End the war on drugs now!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.