All eyes are back on Venezuela, as the Trump administration ramps up pressure to oust President Nicolás Maduro. Last week, President Maduro and members of his inner circle were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on charges of money laundering, drug trafficking and narcoterrorism. And on April 1, the U.S. announced it would be expanding its military presence in the Caribbean to fight “corrupt actors,” like Venezuela, from exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to smuggle more narcotics into the United States. According to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Venezuela relies “on the profits derived from the sale of narcotics to maintain their oppressive hold on power.”
The April 1 announcement follows the unveiling of the Trump administration’s “Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela.” Under the framework, the U.S. would lift its sanctions on Venezuela if the Maduro government and opposition agree to form a transitional government—one that neither Maduro nor opposition leader Juan Guaidó can join. A five-person “Council of State” would act as the executive until free and transparent elections are held.
The U.S. appears to be taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia that has led to plummeting oil prices—the Maduro government’s main source of income—to push for regime change in Venezuela. But following the proposal’s announcement, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza rejected the plan, tweeting “the Bolivarian government reiterates that Venezuela does not accept, nor will it ever accept any tutelage.”