The announcement on Wednesday, they said, was rather a decision to deflect criticism of home administration mismanagement of the epidemic.
The president’s plans to strengthen anti-drug measures go back to at least December, and discussions began between the military in January, according to a senior Pentagon official. On February 1, the Joint Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, ordered US Southern Command to begin designing the operation, and SOUTHCOM Commander, Admiral of the Navy Craig S. Faller, started evaluating the action plan on February 6, as documents show Newsweek shown.
“It was not supposed to be released until May,” said the Pentagon official who knew the operation. Newsweek. “POTUS is using the operation to try to redirect attention. “
In a daily briefing organized by the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Wednesday, Trump, accompanied by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other officials, announced an ambitious multinational narcotics operation involving Warships and planes of the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard in the Caribbean order “to protect the American people from the deadly scourge of illegal narcotics,” he said.
“We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives,” added the president.
Esper echoed the Commander-in-Chief: “As nations around the world refocus to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, many criminal organizations are trying to take advantage of the crisis. “
Friday, the White House changed its messaging. Rather than saying that the mission was aimed at preventing traffickers from exploiting the pandemic, an official linked it to stopping the spread of the disease.
“Transnational criminal organizations and traffickers are seeking to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing their illicit trade activity, which can contribute to the spread of the virus among various groups of people and over great distances,” said a senior administration official. Newsweek.
Several senior US officials who spoke with Newsweek on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the effort expressed “shocked” by this confusion.
The top Pentagon official said Newsweek that the operation against Venezuelan narcotics “has nothing to do with the virus”.
COVID-19 cases have passed the million mark worldwide and about a quarter of these cases have been reported in the United States, by far the most affected country to date. The disease was first registered at the end of last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but quickly spread to the West, with the United States registering its first case on January 20 – though Trump , February 28, dismissed concerns about the coronavirus, the latest “hoax” concocted. by his political opponents.
No confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported throughout Latin America when the initial planning order of February 1 was given for the anti-narcotics mission, or on February 6 when SOUTHCOM started its own formulations. The first case occurred on February 26 in Brazil.
Maduro has been targeted by Washington extremists seeking to oust leftist Latin American leaders, and the operation is the latest escalation in the Trump administration’s campaign of maximum pressure against him. Last week, the Justice Department indicted Maduro and senior administration officials for narcoterrorism, alleging collusion with insurgents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Washington cut ties with the socialist leader in January of last year and has since sought to overthrow him in favor of opposition-led National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, who despite regional support is struggling to maintain his momentum while the president retained the support of the military and various non-state actors, some of whom have been accused of moving and selling drugs.
Earlier this week, the State Department released a power-sharing plan called the Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela, which did not include Maduro as president, but allowed some of his main supporters to keep their positions. Many countries, including Russia and China, still support Maduro from abroad, and the United Nations considers him the country’s leader.
The Pentagon’s top official said the US intelligence community “had evidence that Maduro was trafficking drugs using warships between Venezuela and Cuba,” and added that the White House “believes that a disruption of the drug trade will carry a vital flow of funding for Maduro, further destabilizing his support both within his regime and with the Venezuelan public, increasing his support for Guaidó. “
“The principle of the operation is a push against drug trafficking – but when have you ever heard of the use of this type of force for drugs? The official said Newsweek. “The underlying aim is to put pressure on the Maduro regime. “
Critics have questioned the timing of the announcement and whether it was a good use of federal resources when the country struggled to cope with the disastrous effects of the coronavirus on human life and the economy.
Kassandra Frederique, director general of political advocacy and campaigns at the Drug Policy Alliance, called the size of the Trump administration’s military fleet “an effort to distract Americans from its late response to the COVID-19 crisis – which at this stage, we know, will likely have cost hundreds of thousands of lives. “
“Not only are these actions irresponsible given the public health crisis we find ourselves in, but the escalation of the international war on drugs repeats the same erroneous military response that the United States has supported globally, which has hurt and destabilized countries like Colombia, Afghanistan and Mexico – all while not reducing the supply or use of drugs, “she added in a statement. Newsweek.
Frédérique argued that “Trump unnecessarily chooses to double the cruel and inhuman international war on drugs, which has already devastated countless communities at home and abroad,” especially at a time when the United States needed to all resources, such as personal protective equipment, he could fight the coronavirus at home.
Former assistant secretary of defense Evelyn Farkas also expressed skepticism. She said Newsweek it was “difficult to see these latest military deployments as anything other than an attempt to change the conversation from Trump’s deadly mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. “
“I appreciate that our national security and internal security operations cannot stop due to the current crisis, but it makes us believe that if we look holistically at the threats facing our nation in this moment, that the intensification of the drug ban would be very high on this list ”. said Farkas, who was responsible for overseeing drug operations as a professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“In general, Trump’s approach, whether it be the ridiculous wall, the separation of children or chauvinistic military operations, has not been based on evidence or expertise to solve the real problem of illicit drugs entering our country, “she added. “In the end, it is necessary to react if hostile actors take advantage of COVID-19, but again, there are more pressing threats – we know that Russian and Chinese disinformation is trying to capitalize on COVID-19, yet the president did little or nothing. “
Maduro also rejected the American operation to change the conversation at home. “The Trump administration, in desperation, tried to divert media attention from Venezuela. But they couldn’t and won’t! The media has turned its attention to the internal crisis that the American people are going through due to the pandemic. We are at peace! A statement attributed to the leader was read on Thursday.
The Venezuelan president is facing his own internal crisis with record hyperinflation ravaging an already crumbling economy and political turmoil. Maduro inherited a historic boom in economic growth under the leadership of his late predecessor, the founder of the United Socialist Party Hugo Chávez, but the country’s GDP fell rapidly, experiencing a brief recovery before falling again in 2017, the same year the Trump administration imposed sanctions against the country.
Last month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called on major countries to ease sanctions – rather than exert pressure – on countries like Venezuela.
“In this crucial period, both for reasons of global public health and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be relaxed or suspended,” she said in a statement. press release of March 24. “In the context of a global pandemic, hampering medical efforts in a country increases the risk for all of us. “
The above graphics were provided by Statista.