In a rare move, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an indictment against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Thursday. Maduro and 14 current and former Venezuelan officials have been charged with narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking and other crimes.
The DOJ alleges that Maduro conspired with the FARC, Colombia’s guerrilla army, prior to becoming the president of Venezuela, and continued to do after assuming power. US Attorney General William Barr alleges that “criminality and corruption” plague Maduro’s government. Barr further alleges that Maduro and his government used cocaine as a weapon against the US. The DOJ has offered a $15 million dollar award for information leading to Maduro’s arrest, but has not yet requested his extradition to the US. Maduro has accused the US of attempting to incite violence in Venezuela. Maduro is currently under US sanctions, which are aimed as pushing him out of power.
The US, Venezuela’s neighbors, the Organization of American States and several other countries recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela instead of Maduro. Guaidó declared himself the president of Venezuela in January 2019, but failed to take control of the government from Maduro.
Venezuela has been suffering from the largest modern economic collapse outside of a war for around a decade. The collapse has severely damaged Venezuela’s economy, with the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting the fragility and supply shortages of the Venezuela healthcare system. It is unclear if the crisis is what prompted the DOJ to issue the indictment against Maduro.