Going After Maduro

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The recent indictments of Nicolas Maduro and other Venezuelan government officials on drug trafficking and narco-terrorism charges is a sham. It is a politically motivated and hypocritical attack on the elected government of Venezuela. Obviously, it is another front in the ongoing US low-intensity war on the majority of Venezuelans. It is cynical in that Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia has been literally governed by drug traffickers for most of the past thirty years, if not longer.

The attempt to paint Maduro or the Colombian leftist insurgency FARC as drug traffickers on par with the cartels in Mexico or the cocaine lords who control Colombia is a distortion of FARC’s historic taxation and protection of coca growers in Colombia. If the US and its drug enforcement apparatus were truly interested in stopping cocaine smuggling from Colombia, it would halt all aid flowing to Bogota until the government was flushed free of every politician, military member and government bureaucrat with connections to the Colombian traffickers running that country.

These indictments are purely political. The United States decided long ago that it would do whatever it could to stifle the success of the Bolivarian revolution in the Latin American countries where it succeeded. The 2019 coup in Bolivia was its most recent success in that campaign. A week ago, elections in that country were postponed indefinitely. This means that the fascist elements who overthrew the elected government in La Paz will remain in power for as long as they please their US masters and its allies among the wealthy in Bolivia. As for Venezuela, it is currently fighting the COVID-19 virus amidst increased poverty and intensified food shortages for the poor thanks to US sanctions and theft of Venezuela’s oil profits. At the same time, it is attempting to fend off US-sponsored assaults on its territory and attempts by various citizens working with US intelligence fronts to undermine upcoming elections.

The possibility of US military action remains high. Indeed, these indictments make that possibility even greater. In December 1989, the United States invaded Panama under the pretense it was arresting its president Manuel Noriega on drug charges. The real intent of the invasion, which left thousands of Panamanian dead and wounded, was to prevent the imminent transfer of the Panama Canal from the US to Panama. Besides the obvious illegality of the invasion itself, there is the greater legal question of what right the US had to arrest and seize the official of another nation on its territory for violating US laws. The US has somewhat answered that question numerous times in the wake of 9-11, kidnapping and rendering dozens of alleged terrorists. Even then, those arrestees were not leaders and officials of another nation. It seems apparent that the inclusion of narco-terrorism charges is partially intended to justify any potential kidnapping of Mr. Maduro or any other of the indicted as being legitimate. The hypocrisy of this charge is laid bare in the negotiations with insurgents in Afghanistan—many who are definitely considered both terrorists and drug traffickers by most law enforcement agencies around the world.

In 1989 during the invasion of Panama, very few members of the antiwar movement spoke out. This was during a period when that movement was quite strong in relation to what little there is of today’s antiwar movement. Their objections were similar to the qualifications made by many progressives and leftists whose opposition to US interference in Venezuela is lukewarm at best. That silence from the antiwar forces in 1989 lit up the hopes of then President George HW Bush (who got away with running a cocaine-for-guns network during the US-sponsored Contra wars in Nicaragua earlier in the decade) and was certainly part of his thinking when less than a year later he began sending hundreds of thousands of US troops to the Middle East in preparation for the January 16, 1991 invasion of Iraq. The US has been invading, occupying and otherwise killing and destroying in other countries nonstop ever since then.

One can object to my argument that these charges are just another pretext for potential military action against Venezuela. However, let me remind you that the US has proven over and over again that it not only needs very little reason to attack another nation it considers a threat to its hegemony. Indeed, Washington has lied more than once in order to do so. I find it difficult to believe that these indictments are anything but another such lie. Even if the prosecutors in this case could prove conspiracy—a charge that is speculative and subjective as any charge can possibly be—cocaine would still be coming into the United States like it has for decades. This is because drug trafficking prosecutions are not about ending drug trafficking, but about controlling who does the trafficking and who makes the money. Honest drug cops know this and fight it every day. The rest of them either ignore it or take a cut of that money for themselves. Governments aren’t much different. Some, like that of the United States, actively engage in the drug trade, using the profits to fund illegal wars and subvert legitimate governments it dislikes. The indictments of Maduro and some of his staff are but another chapter in this decades long tale.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com