Venezuela’s socialist government is finding several new reasons to be angry at the U.S. this week. President Nicolás Maduro thundered at a group of Venezuelan exiles in Miami who petitioned Florida lawmakers to label the country a “narco-state,” demanding that their identities be revealed.
Miami-based group Persecuted Political Venezuelans in Exile (Veppex) issued a letter to U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Monday, accusing several Venezuelan government officials of being participants in the drug trade. “This clearly demonstrates that protection of drug trafficking has become a state policy,” the group wrote. “It reflects Venezuela is a secure platform for this criminal activity.” Veppex implored the senators to declare “Nicolás Maduro’s regime a narco-state.”
Maduro, speaking Monday evening at a meeting of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, called on the judiciary to unveil the identities of the Veppex members behind the letter. “There cannot be impunity,” he said, according to local reports. “We must know who signed that letter asking to declare Venezuela a narco-state. We must find their first and last names and broadcast their faces nationally, because aiming for interference is high treason against the country.... We must take political, diplomatic, judicial, national and international action to go to battle at the highest level to defend our right to live in peace.”
The only name to appear in the letter was that of Veppex President José Antonio Colina. Maduro’s fiery words came days after a former high-level bodyguard reportedly turned up in the U.S. to prepare witness testimony against a Venezuelan congressional leader for alleged links to a drug cartel.
The bodyguard, Leamsy Salazar, is expected to formally accuse Diosdado Cabello, widely considered Venezuela’s second-in-command, of heading the Cartel de los Soles drug trafficking organization. Cabello vehemently denied the allegations, and he has Maduro’s backing. Salazar also reportedly told U.S. officials that longtime Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez had died two months before the government formally announced his death.
The United States and Venezuela have been exchanging a flurry of denouncements against each other in recent days. On Sunday, Maduro accused U.S. Vice President Joe Biden of orchestrating a plot with other governments to overthrow Venezuela’s regime; the U.S. called the accusations “patently false.” Separately, the U.S. State Department issued a round of fresh travel restrictions on a number of Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses during the crackdown on protesters in last year’s mass street demonstrations.