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.