The War With COVID-19, Terrorists, and Drug Cartels

By The Sharp Edge The war we are facing against drug cartels connected to the Maduro regime may be much more than it seems.  General Milley succinctly described it like this: “We’re at war with COVID-19, we’re at war with terrorists, and we are at war with the drug cartels as well.”  Deeply entrenched in drug trafficking and terrorism operations within Venezuela, Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, may have had plans to exploit the Coronavirus outbreak and carry out operations against the United States and our interests in the region.  The threat to US national security that the narco state and its allies poses, amidst the backdrop of the worldwide Coronavirus outbreak, has led the Trump Administration to announce enhanced counter narcotics operations in the Western hemisphere – targeting criminals, cartels and terrorists tied to the Maduro regime.  By halting drug trafficking through Venezuela, the United States will essentially strangle the supply line of money and weapons to terrorist organizations that seek to threaten our national security and thwart any plans to exploit the Coronavirus pandemic. From Wealthy Democracy to Authoritarian Narco State, Maduro Regime Poses Threat to Its People and the World Having the largest proven oil reserves in the world, Venezuela was once the richest country in South America.  Following the widespread corruption of military leaders who ran the country for the first half of the 20th century, the nation, rich in culture and natural resources, enjoyed a relatively peaceful time of prosperity beginning in 1958 when democracy was introduced to the people.  That is, of course, until the price of oil went into free fall in the mid-1980s.  Their oil-dependent economy collapsed, riots broke out across the country, and martial law was promptly enacted.  The conditions were ripe for Hugo Chavez to lead a coup.  Though two coup attempts led by Chavez in 1992 failed and Chavez was subsequently jailed, they did inspire the impeachment of Perez the following year.  It was after Hugo Chavez’s release from prison in 1993, that his alliance with Cuba’s Fidel Castro was forged.  Nicolas Maduro, who also had close ties with Castro, campaigned for the release of Hugo Chavez from prison and was instrumental in Chavez’s election in 1998. With promises to lift the country from its economic decline due to depressed oil prices, Chavez won the 1998 election with strong support from the people who had hopes for reform.  Chavez took office in 1999 and surely did live up to his promises of changing the country.  However, the changes that Chavez made to this fledgling democracy meant consolidation of power, elimination of checks and balances, and nationalization of many industries within the country, under a new constitution that was adopted by the National Assembly in 1999.  Chavez began to transform Venezuela into the image of Cuba.  Nicolas Maduro was elected to the National Assembly shortly thereafter in 2000.  By 2006, Maduro attained the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs under Hugo Chavez and then was appointed to the position of Vice President under Chavez in 2012.  Maduro assumed the presidency following the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013.  Nationalized industries under the socialist policies of Chavez drove expropriated farmlands to become wastelands.  The inefficient and corrupt government of Venezuela did not have the capacity to run thousands of private businesses, as they artificially controlled prices, driving those businesses to lose profits and close down.  Socialism, corruption, and mismanagement killed the economy of Venezuela and starved its people under the Chavez and Maduro regimes.  While tens of thousands of tons of rotten food were found in government owned warehouses during Chavez’s presidency, their people went without.  The Chief Prosecutor of Venezuela from 2007 to 2017 accused Maduro of actually profiting from the food supply shortage.  The food shortage in Venezuela led to a government food program known as “CLAP.”  The Venezuelan food program had contracts with a Mexican Company allegedly owned by Maduro, who profited off the supply of food to Venezuelans in need.  The food shortages and starving masses have led to riots, crime, a black market of food trafficking by the Venezuelan military, and refugees fleeing the country by the millions. Thousands, many of whom are children as young as 10 years old, have been forced to work in the illegal gold mines of Venezuela’s Amazon under sub-human, slave labor conditions.  The illegal gold mines have been run by the Colombian guerrilla groups, FARC and ELN, under the direction of Maduro’s former Vice President, Tareck El Aissami.  Miners who are accused of theft are subjected to torture, amputations, and murder. Over 200,000 children have been subjected to exploitation by the criminal organizations operating in Venezuela, including human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, and slave labor.  More than 1 million children in Venezuela have been forced to work in the “informal sector,” including illegal gold mines, drug trafficking, and other criminal activities. In order to quell protests by dissidents, between 2015 and 2017, police carried out extrajudicial executions of more than 8,000 people in poor communities that no longer supported Maduro.  In 2017, the United States imposed new sanctions on the Maduro regime for serious human rights violations and attempts to undermine democratic elections in the country.  The extremely unpopular president’s reelection in 2018 was riddled with massive anti-Maduro protests, as well as accusations of voter fraud and vote buying.  Starving Venezuelans were asked to scan their “fatherland cards” at voting cites in order to win a prize provided by Maduro.  The fatherland cards are used nationwide to provide food benefits and money transfers. Seen as “the last vestige of democracy” in an authoritarian regime, a legislative body representing the people known as the National Assembly chose Juan Guiado to preside as its president in December of 2018.  The National Assembly has asserted that the May 2018 reelection of Maduro was rigged and labeled Maduro as a “usurper.”  The National Assembly refuses to recognize Maduro’s reelection as legitimate and, citing the Venezuelan constitution, asserts that the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guiado, should be deemed as the interim President, until the next election takes place.  In a statement released by the White House, Trump remarked, “In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant.”  Guiado has received the support of: the US, the EU, Israel, Canada, Australia, and most Latin American nations.  In March of 2020, the US State Department released a proposal for a “peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela,” which proposes a framework for “the establishment of a broadly acceptable transitional government to administer free and fair presidential elections and a pathway to lifting Venezuela-related U.S. sanctions.” Despite opposition by the National Assembly and the international community, Maduro and his cronies have clung to power with the solidarity of key allies including: Cuba, Iran, Russia, and China.  With Hezbollah operations deeply entrenched in Venezuela since Chavez took power, Iran’s leader, Rouhani, has publically backed the Maduro regime and opposed the US’ “interventionist” support of the National Assembly, calling it “very ugly.” China and Russia have sought to secure their investments tied to oil reserves in the country by continuing to prop up the Maduro regime, as it is unclear if repayment on their loans would occur should Maduro be removed from office. Venezuela’s relationships with China and Russia strengthened exponentially during the regimes of Chavez and Maduro.  Under Chavez and Maduro, China has lent nearly $55 billion to the economically volatile country, in exchange for oil supplies.  In addition to financial support, China has provided the Maduro regime with a massive surveillance system to spy on its citizens.  Together, China and Russia have had an enormous stake in Venezuelan oil reserves, lending the petro state tens of billions of dollars while propping up the Chavez and Maduro administrations.  However, amidst the US indictments against Maduro and members of his administration, leading to a proclamation of war against cartels connected to the Maduro regime, Russia’s state owned oil company, Rosneft, which owned more than 70% of Venezuelan oil exports, cut ties with Venezuela in April of 2020, signaling that Russia intends to step back from their support of the crippled administration.  China appears to have scaled back support for Maduro in recent months as well. With the extreme economic crisis in Venezuela, the American embargo on Venezuelan oil, and cratering oil prices due to a massive oversupply of oil on the world market, Maduro has quietly departed from socialist policies of state-run oil fields in an attempt to salvage the economy and remain in power.  According to Rafael Ramirez, the former head of Venezuela’s state-owned oil industry (Pdvsa), who cut ties with Maduro in 2017, “Pdvsa doesn’t manage our oil industry, Venezuelans don’t manage it…In the middle of the chaos generated by the worst economic crisis suffered by the country in its history, Maduro is taking actions to cede, transfer and hand over oil operations to private capital.”  Consequently, Chevron has become the largest foreign producer of oil in Venezuela. The Venezuelan people are suffering through the worst humanitarian crisis the country has ever faced in recent years, lacking food, water, electricity and basic medical care.  However, their worst days may loom ahead as the country, crippled by the failed socialist policies of a corrupt regime, faces the uncontrolled spread of Coronavirus throughout the nation.  While neighboring countries have sealed their borders to refugees who may be carriers of the virus, the potential for social unrest nationwide surges.  Venezuelans carrying Coronavirus may turn to cartels for aid in illegal passage beyond the country’s borders, spreading the virus to neighboring countries and beyond. With little support from the international community, and millions of Venezuelans going without basic necessities amidst the Coronavirus outbreak, the Maduro regime faces mounting pressure from all sides to step down, allowing sanctions to be lifted and an interim government to take over. Dangerous Allies Within Venezuela’s Narco State Threaten US National Security and Regional Partners Amidst the Coronavirus outbreak, the importation of illegal drugs to the United States that are obviously not subjected to FDA or Border Patrol inspections, poses a new and immediate threat to national security.  Though the FDA states that, “There is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods,” they admit that “this remains a dynamic situation” and are taking extreme precautions to evaluate all imported goods to the country.  In an announcement by the Department of Justice regarding the indictments of Maduro and his co-conspirators in March of 2020, Attorney General Barr remarked, “We estimate that somewhere between 200 and 250 metric tons of cocaine are shipped out of Venezuela,” annually by air and maritime routes, adding, “Those 250 metric tons equate to 30 million lethal doses.”  US Attorney Geoffrey Berman explained, “As alleged, Maduro and the other defendants expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and well-being of our nation.  Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon.” Under the Chavez and Maduro regimes, Venezuela has reached a diplomatic crisis with Columbia over providing safe haven for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as well as the Colombian rebel group known as the National Liberation Army (ELN).  The Colombian dissident groups use armed guerrilla combatants who conduct drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, and illegal mining throughout the region.  According to US Attorney Geoffrey Berman, Maduro has been accused of “running, together with his top lieutenants, a narco-terrorism partnership with the FARC for the past 20 years.”  The Justice Department announcement explained  “In his role as a leader of the Cartel de Los Soles,Maduro Moros negotiated multi-ton shipments of FARC-produced cocaine; directed that the Cartel de Los Soles provide military-grade weapons to the FARC; coordinated foreign affairs with Honduras and other countries to facilitate large-scale drug trafficking; and solicited … Continue reading The War With COVID-19, Terrorists, and Drug Cartels