U.S. indicts Maduro for 'narco-terrorism'

(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BAR SAYING:

"Those 250 metric tons equate to 30 million lethal doses."


The U.S. government on Thursday indicted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and more than a dozen other top Venezuelan officials on so-called "narco-terrorism" charges.

The charges allege a scheme in which Maduro's government helped funnel drugs from Colombia, through Venezuela and eventually to the U.S. mainland in lethal quantities.

The charges are the latest escalation of the Trump administration's pressure campaign aimed at ousting the socialist leader.

The State Department offered a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Maduro.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BAR SAYING:

"The indictment of Nicolas Maduro, and his co-defendants, alleges a conspiracy, involving an extremely violent organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the 'FARC', and an effort to flood the United States with cocaine."


The FARC was at the center of a decades-long bloody civil war in Colombia and members laid down their arms following a 2017 peace agreement.


But on Thursday, Barr alleged that FARC rebels on the border with Venezuela are still participating in narco-trafficking through a new drug trade route, with the help of Nicolas Maduro and three co-defendants: the current head of Venezuela's constituent assembly, the former director of military intelligence, and a former high-ranking general.


(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BAR SAYING:

"The FARC gets this cocaine into Venezuela, and is then given safe haven by the regime, to fly this cocaine from an area called Zulia, near Lake Maracaibo, up into Central America... We estimate that somewhere between 200-250 metric tons of cocaine are shipped out of Venezuela by these routes."


Thursday's indictment, a rare U.S. action against a sitting foreign head of state, marks a serious new phase against Maduro by Washington at a time when some U.S. officials have privately said President Donald Trump is increasingly frustrated with the results of his Venezuela policy.

Despite deep divisions in his country, Maduro has remained in power since 2013, and is backed by the country's military, Russia, China and Cuba.