Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has named a man US authorities accused of drug trafficking as the country's new Interior minister, a move that further politicizes a series of drug cases brought by the United States against Venezuelan officials.
During his weekly presidential television show on August 2, Maduro announced that he had named the former head of Venezuela's anti-drug agency, Nestor Reverol, as interior minister. The announcement came just one day after US federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment charging Reverol and his former number two at the anti-drug agency with using their positions to facilitate international cocaine trafficking.
Reverol has previously denied the US allegations, citing his service in the security forces. "How am I going to be a narcotrafficker if I have 30 years fighting drug trafficking and searching for capos?" he asked a reporter earlier this year.
Maduro claimed that Reverol's successes in fighting drug trafficking had made him a target for the United States. "That is why the narcotraffickers that direct politics in the United States want to make him pay," the president said.
"I offer him all my solidarity, all my personal support as chief executive, as head of state," Maduro said of Reverol, describing the charges against him as an attack by the "North American empire."
InSight Crime Analysis
Maduro's nomination of Reverol as Interior minister is perhaps the strongest sign to date that the president intends to treat US drug charges against Venezuelan officials as political rather than law enforcement matters. The president has previously moved to protect other officials accused of drug trafficking by the United States and has insinuated that such accusations are part of a US-led campaign to undermine his government -- a charge the US government denies.
Politicization of the issue could make it more difficult for US authorities to successfully prosecute Venezuelan officials suspected of drug trafficking. US prosecutors unsealed the indictment of Reverol and his colleague as Maduro faces a deepening economic crisis and declining popularity that have given momentum to an opposition-led presidential recall effort. This timing could lend credence to Maduro's claims that the charges are motivated by a desire on the part of the United States to see his left-leaning government removed from power.
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As long as Maduro remains in office, it is highly unlikely that his government will cooperate with the United States on investigations or prosecutions of officials accused of drug trafficking. Rather than pressuring the Maduro administration into cooperating with US authorities, actions like the unsealing of the Reverol indictment appear more prone to generate a backlash from the Venezuelan government. This is likely concerning for US anti-narcotics officials, as Venezuela is thought to be a key transshipment country for cocaine produced in neighboring Colombia.