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AG Bill Barr issues $15m REWARD for Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro after he is charged in the U.S. with narco terrorism

  (News Agencies) The US Department of Justice announced Thursday that it has indicted Venezuela's president Nicolás Maduro and several key aides on charges of narcoterrorism. Attorney General William Barr announced the charges against Maduro, who already faces US sanctions and has been the target of a US effort aimed at pushing him from power. The State Department offered a reward of up to $15million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Maduro, who has been in power since 2013. Barr accused Maduro and his associates of conspiring with a dissident faction of the leftist Colombian guerrilla group FARC 'to flood the United States with cocaine'. 'We estimate that somewhere between 200 and 250 metric tons of cocaine are shipped out of Venezuela by these routes. Those 250 metric tons equates to 30 million lethal doses,' the indictment says. Maduro responded to the charges on Twitter, saying: 'There's a conspiracy from the United States and Colombia and they've given the order of filling Venezuela with violence. 'As head of state I'm obliged to defend peace and stability for all the motherland, under any circumstances.' The indictment of a functioning head of state is highly unusual and is bound to ratchet up tensions between Washington and Caracas as the spread of the coronavirus threatens to collapse a health system and oil-dependent economy driven deep into the ground by years of corruption and US sanctions. Analysts said the action could boost Trump's re-election chances in the key swing state of Florida, which he won by a narrow margin in 2016 and where Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans fleeing authoritarian regimes have political muscle. But its unclear how it brings Venezuela any closer to ending a 15-month standoff between Maduro, who has the support of Russia and China, and the US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó. It also could fragment the US-led coalition against Maduro if European and Latin American allies think the Trump administration is overreaching.'This kind of action does nothing to help a negotiated solution—something that's already really difficult,' said Roberta Jacobson, who served as the State Department's top diplomat for Latin America until 2018. Maduro, a 57-year-old former bus driver, portrays himself as an everyman icon of the Latin American left. He's long accused the US 'empire' of looking for any excuse to take control of the world's largest oil reserves, likening its plotting to the 1989 invasion of Panama and the removal of Gen Manuel Noriega to face drug trafficking charges in Florida. Barr and Elliott Abrams, the State Department's special envoy on Venezuela, are driving the hawkish US stance toward Maduro much as they pushed for Noriega's ouster in the late 1980s — Barr as a senior Justice Department official and Abrams as assistant secretary of state for Latin America.US officials see other parallels as well. Noriega transformed Panama into a playground for violent, international drug cartels while the Trump administration has accused Maduro and his military henchmen of harboring drug traffickers, guerrillas from Colombia and even Hezbollah, a designated terrorist group. They also have accused government officials together with well-connected businessmen of stealing hundreds of billions of dollars from the state coffers, much of it from state oil giant PDVSA, which has seen its production plunge to a seven-decade low. Still, charging Maduro was no easy task. Sitting foreign leaders normally enjoy immunity from prosecution under US law and international norms. But the US is among 60 countries that no longer consider Maduro a head of state even if he does hold de facto power.



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