The U.S. Justice Department may have just breathed some life into the near-dead opposition movement in Venezuela. On Thursday, Justice leveled narco-terrorism and other criminal charges against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and senior leaders of his government. 

Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela have been poor since Hugo Chavez, a self-described Marxist, became president in 1999. Chavez embraced fellow Marxist leaders Fidel and Raul Castro in Cuba, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and other leftists such as Evo Morales in Bolivia. He began a constant stream of anti-U.S. rhetoric as he systematically suppressed the press, manipulated electoral laws, arrested and exiled government critics. His successor, Maduro, followed the same path. During Maduro’s presidency corruption rose and the economy tanked.

Now, the U.S.-Venezuelan relation will take an even worse turn as the State Department designated Maduro and many of his top cronies from Venezuela’s military, parliament, and judiciary under its Narcotics Rewards Program, offering multimillion-dollar bounties for their arrest.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said that a $15 million dollar reward is being offered for information leading to Maduro’s arrest.

Federal prosecutors in New York, Miami, and Washington DC have charged that Maduro’s regime operates a drug cartel (Cartel de Los Soles) with Colombian FARC narco-terrorists to import cocaine into the United States.

The United States and several other countries have recognized the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, as the country’s rightful president. After a fraudulent election that caused massive street protests and violence across the country, Maduro claimed the U.S. and others were trying to oust him illegally from power. 

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, in a statement answering the charges, followed the same line stating that the U.S.’s leveling of charges is an act of “desperation.” Washington, he said, is “using a new form of coup d’état on the basis of vulgar, miserable and unfounded accusations, [and] is trying to minimize the recognition that Venezuela has achieved in the fight against drug trafficking.”

“The deep frustration of the White House is a product of the peace that reigns in Venezuela today, whose authorities have managed to neutralize coups and destabilizing attempts planned and financed from the United States,” he added.

Arreaza used a tactic that is sure to parroted by the Democrats in D.C. when he claimed that the charges against Maduro were made to distract the American public from the coronavirus.

“The government of Donald Trump does not accept that, using a unique model of its own, the government of Nicolas Maduro is adequately managing the threats of Covid-19 in the face of the resounding failure that U.S. institutions have shown in this matter.”

Maduro took to Twitter shortly after the charges were announced to say that Colombia and the U.S. were conspiring to overthrow his government.

“As head of state I am obliged to defend the peace and stability of the entire homeland,” Maduro wrote.

Attorney General Barr said that Colombian rebels had “obtained the support of the Maduro regime, who is allowing them to use Venezuela as a safe haven from which they can continue to conduct their cocaine trafficking.” 

The U.S. State Department issued a separate statement that said Maduro and members of his regime named in the indictment had “violated the public trust by facilitating shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, including control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan airbase.”

As the relations between the two countries now appear to be headed for a new low, Washington will no doubt move to increase the already crippling sanctions they have been imposed on the collapsed Venezuelan economy. Inflation in Venezuela has been running out of control. Although the Venezuelan government no longer publishes inflation data, the IMF estimated that in 2019 inflation was at a staggering 10,000,000 percent!

Nearly five million people have fled the country as a result of the economic devastation and political turmoil.