Venezuela: does the 'Cartel of the Suns' exist?

In a rare move, the US Department of Justice issued an indictment against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on March 26. Maduro and 14 current and former Venezuelan officials have been charged with narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking and other crimes. The DoJ alleges that Maduro conspired with the FARC, Colombia's guerrilla army, prior to becoming the president, and continued to do after assuming power. The indictment charges that this nexus has congealed under the name "Cartel of the Suns," and that Maduro continues to collude with dissident factions of the FARC that remain in arms despite the Colombian peace accords. Attorney General William Barr said the aim of the conspiracy is "to flood the United States with cocaine." 

The other indicted officials include Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López; the chief justice of the country's supreme court, Maikel Jose Moreno Pérez; and senior United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) leader Diosdado Cabello. The US is offering $10 million for information leading to Cabello's arrest, and $15 million for Maduro's.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza responded that the indictment shows the "desperation" of the "Washington elite." He said that Trump is "once more attacking the Venezuelan people and its democratic institutions, using a new form of coup d'etat based on miserable, vulgar and unfounded accusations."

Maduro is currently under US sanctions, which are aimed as pushing him out of power. The US, the Organization of American States, and several other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela rather than Maduro. Guaidó declared himself president in January 2019, but failed to take control of the government from Maduro.

Venezuela has been suffering from the world's largest recent economic collapse outside of a war zone for around a decade. The COVID-19 pandemic has now highlighted the fragility and supply shortages of the Venezuelan healthcare system. (Jurist, Al Jazeera, Ahora Mismo)

Venezuelan 'Bay of Pigs' averted?

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced May 4 that his security services apprehended 13 "mercenaries" who had invaded the country by boat from neighboring Colombia and attempted to carry out a coup against his government. Two US nationals were among the detained. This follows news reports that ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau's private security company, Silvercorp, has been working with the US government to destabilize the Venezuelan regime. Goudreau took responsibility for the failed raid, while the US is denying involvement. (CGTN, WaPo, Bellingcat, The Guardian)

The affair also comes as Trump has ordered Navy ships to Caribbean waters near Venezuelan, ostensibly to counter narco-trafficking from the South American country. (AP)

Venezuela orders EU ambassador to leave country

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro on June 29 ordered the EU ambassador Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa to leave the country within 72 hours. Her expulsion came hours after the EU placed sanctions on 11 Venezuelan officials for "undermining democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela." (Jurist)

Hezbollah's South American bagman busted?

Cape Verde authorities on June 12 arrested a Colombian businessman of Lebanese origin, Alex Saab, who is wanted by US authorities on charges related to money laundering and other illegal activities in Venezuela. He was detained when his private jet touched down in the island nation, possibly en route to Iran. In July 2019, federal prosecutors indicted Saab on charges of running a global multi-million money laundering operation that diverted Venezuelan state funds to overseas accounts. Additionally, Saab is accused of using shell companies to send overpriced, inedible food to Venezuela through the government's Local Provisioning & Production Committees (CLAP) aid program. Saab is also said to be the key money conduit for Hezbollah's South American activities. (InSight Crime, Gulf News, WRLN, Miami)