Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro is rushing to the defense of his government’s second-in-command, who is reportedly facing a U.S. investigation over drug trafficking allegations. Maduro announced a national defense campaign for National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, saying that “whoever meddles with Diosdado meddles with me.”
The president made the remarks Tuesday evening during his weekly broadcast, “In Contact With Maduro,” saying the government was launching a “national and international campaign in defense, support, backing and solidarity” of Cabello. The announcement comes two days after the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials were investigating Cabello’s alleged links to drug trafficking networks in the country.
Earlier Tuesday, the National Assembly released a statement from Cabello denying the accusations. “I strongly reject the campaign not against me, but against the Venezuelan homeland,” he said.
“If there is proof, present it,” the statement continued. “Until then, they cannot condemn me.”
Reports of a U.S. probe of Cabello surfaced in January after Leamzy Salazar, a former bodyguard who served Cabello and the late President Hugo Chávez, defected to the United States to work with U.S. investigators. Salazar was expected to provide testimony to U.S. officials that he saw Cabello oversee large shipments of cocaine out of the country and furthered Venezuela’s position as a drug trafficking hub. Miami’s El Nuevo Herald and Spain’s ABC newspaper both reported the story at the time, eliciting fierce condemnation from both Cabello and Maduro.
Fallout over those initial reports continued this month when Cabello requested a court order to prevent 22 media executives from leaving the country as he pursued defamation charges against them. The lawsuit targeted employees from three Venezuelan news outlets, El Nacional, Tal Cual and La Patilla, all of which reported on the drug trafficking allegations and regularly publish articles critical of the socialist administration.
U.S. officials are reportedly investigating a handful of other Venezuelan officials for drug ties, including current and former military officials, as well as Cabello’s brother, director of the national tax collection agency. Gen. Hugo Carvajal, formerly Venezuela’s head of military intelligence, is also among the targets. Last summer Carvajal was detained in Aruba by U.S. request, based on accusations that he was linked to drug trafficking. The incident created a brief diplomatic flare-up between Washington and Caracas, but Carvajal was eventually released back to Venezuela.