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U.S. Indictment of Venezuela's Maduro Carries Echoes of Noriega. Will It End the Same Way?

March 26, 2020

In January of 1990, a once powerful Latin American leader stood before a Miami judge to face charges that he had taken $4.6 million in bribes in exchange for allowing his nation to become a hub for Colombian cocaine cartels.

The man was Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, the one-time military ruler of Panama. And that hearing marked the first time a U.S. court had ever indicted a head of state.

On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department made history again, charging Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and some of his closest allies with working with Colombian guerrillas to turn his country into a safe haven for narcotics exports...

Eric Farnsworth, the vice president of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in Washington, D.C., was an official in the Panama office at the U.S. State Department in the aftermath of the military operation against Noriega.

He says a U.S. invasion of Venezuela seems unlikely, although the Trump administration has never ruled out taking military action against Maduro.

“Just because somebody is under indictment doesn’t mean necessarily the law enforcement goes and picks them up,” he said...

Washington has been ratcheting up painful economic sanctions on Venezuela and Thursday’s indictment is simply part of that “maximum pressure” campaign, Farnsworth said.

But if Washington’s ultimate goal is to break the political stalemate and encourage a transition, it’s unclear if the new indictment will do it.

“It is hard to say if it makes a negotiated outcome more or less likely,” Farnsworth said. “We had a negotiation with Noriega… so you could make the case that this actually gives us another tool to negotiate from, but, at the end of the day, it took a U.S. military action in Panama to get rid of him.”

Ultimately, the threat of arrest could make Maduro dig in his heels further and scare him away from potential negotiations, Farnsworth said...

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