Last Thursday, President Trump announced he is sending military forces and warships to the Caribbean to combat the illegal drugs coming from Venezuela that also enrich its corrupt regime. “We must not let the drug cartels exploit the [COVID-19] pandemic to threaten American lives. In cooperation with the 22 partner nations US Southern Command will increase surveillance, disruption and seizures of drug shipments…” Trump said.
Defense Secretary Esper published a list of these forces which includes “Navy destroyers, Coast Guard cutters, Navy littoral combat ships, helicopters, Navy P-8 patrol aircraft, along with Air Force E-3 AWACS and E-8 JSTARS to carry out airborne surveillance, control, and communications,” reported the Miami Herald. The operation also includes security forces assistance brigades.
Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there were “thousands” of sailors, Coast Guardsmen, soldiers, airmen and Marines involved.
This military deployment is meant to perform “counternarcotics operations,” but is also aimed at denying funds to Nicolas Maduro and his closest allies, who have been recently indicted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges, said top leaders of the Trump national security team.
Last week US prosecutors indicted Venezuela’s illegitimate leader and his associates on narco-terrorism charges, and the US issued a $15 million bounty for the capture of Maduro. As Univision noted, it “also comes two days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered to lift crippling sanctions against Venezuela if Maduro agreed to a power-sharing deal with opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by almost 60 countries as the legitimate president.”
According to David Adams in Univision:
“Juan Cruz, former National Security Council senior director for the Western Hemisphere, says the deployment isn’t far off a naval blockade and sends the Maduro regime “a throat-punch message.” It’s also too expensive a move to constitute a bluff. “It is intended to firmly underscore that we ain’t kidding,” he said.”
Maduro responded by tweeting Saturday that he had “ordered the mobilisation of artillery [pieces]” in the country’s strategic areas in order to protect the security of ordinary Venezuelans, reported The Nation. This mobilization is part of Venezuela’s ongoing 2020 Bolivarian Shield military drills, which began in mid-February.
“With the military headed down there the ‘chavistas are really concerned’,” said Russell Dalen, a Venezuela analyst who owns Caracas Capital Markets. The top military and political circles around Maduro had to be thinking about their own future, he said, including recovering their frozen assets, and picking up the $15 million reward for turning Maduro in.”
Maduro’s bluster follows the huge embarrassment of a Venezuelan navy ship sinking after it tried to ram a European cruise ship off its coast. Venezuela accused the Portuguese-flagged “Resolute” of “aggression and piracy”, and possibly carrying mercenaries to attack military bases in Venezuela. The cruise ship, which has a reinforced hull for polar expeditions, suffered only minor damage.
“They are idiots. They sank their own ship,” said Dalen.
While some question whether Trump should be launching major new military operations during the Wuhan Coronavirus epidemic, it is important that the US show that the pandemic will not keep it from responding to other national security threats. We can fight COVID-19 and other enemies at the same time. Maduro take note.