nicolas maduro
Carolina Cabral / Getty Images file

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced new drug trafficking charges against Venezuelan leaders Thursday that include the South American nation’s President Nicolas Maduro.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced the charges alongside the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and top prosecutors, alleging Maduro and senior government officials operated an extensive drug trafficking operation.

The indictment charges Maduro of running a cartel that “prioritized using cocaine as a weapon against America and importing as much cocaine as possible into the United States.”

“Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in a Thursday press conference. “While Maduro and other cartel members held lofty titles in Venezuela’s political and military leadership, the conduct described in the indictment wasn’t statecraft or service to the Venezuealan people. As alleged, the defendants betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuelan institutions to line their pockets with drug money.”

Thursday’s indictment is the latest escalation between the United States and the Maduro regime which has thrown the South American nation into turmoil through large-scale corruption and the faithful execution of socialism. Prominent members of the regime have been accused of facilitating narco-terrorism in the past as the nation continues to descend as a failed state, and the regime has also been accused of human rights abuses.

A rebellion to overturn Maduro, which was endorsed by the US, was provoked by economic devastation and social unrest in the country.

The U.S. backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido amid the uprising as millions starve and flee the country under the oppressive regime refusing to allow humanitarian aid within its borders.

The State Department has put out a $15 million reward for Maduro’s capture and conviction.

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