President Donald Trump has announced that US naval ships are being moved towards Venzuela.
The deployment comes as Mr Trump’s administration beefs up counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean following a US drug indictment against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.
Defence secretary Mark Esper said: “The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro and his criminal control over the country, and drug traffickers are seizing on this lawlessness.”
Cartels, criminals, and other malign actors may try to exploit this time of crisis to threaten Americans.April 1, 2020
The mission involves sending additional warships, surveillance aircraft and special forces teams to nearly double the US counter-narcotics capacity in the Western Hemisphere, with forces operating both in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific. Mr Esper said the mission would be supported by 22 partner nations.
Mr Trump said: “As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus there is a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain. We must not let that happen.”
The enhanced mission has been months in the making but has taken on greater urgency following last week’s drugs indictment of Mr Maduro and members of his inner circle and military. They are accused of leading a narco-terrorist conspiracy responsible for smuggling up to 250 metric tons of cocaine a year into the US.
We're working with 22 partner nations to bolster counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere. pic.twitter.com/2lnII5dK8v— The White House (@WhiteHouse) April 1, 2020
Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has been among those calling for a tougher stance against Mr Maduro, said: “If I was just indicted for drug trafficking by the United States, with a 15 million dollar reward for my capture, having the US Navy conducting anti-drug operations off my coast would be something I would worry about.”
It also comes as Mr Maduro steps up attacks on his US-backed rival, Juan Guaido. Mr Maduro’s chief prosecutor ordered Mr Guaido to provide evidence as part of an investigation into an alleged coup attempt.
Mr Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s congress who is recognised as his country’s legitimate leader by the US and almost 60 other nations, is unlikely to show up, raising the possibility he could be arrested. The US has long insisted it will not tolerate any harm against Mr Guaido.
“We're at war with COVID-19, we're at war with terrorists, and we are at war with the drug cartels . . . We're the United States military and we will defend our country." —General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs pic.twitter.com/hHDPBcgf6b— The White House (@WhiteHouse) April 1, 2020
Mr Maduro has criticised the Trump administration’s offer of a 15 million dollar reward for his arrest, calling it the work of a “racist cowboy” aimed at getting US hands on Venezuela’s vast oil reserves. He also points out that the vast majority of cocaine leaves South America from Colombia, a staunch US ally.