Trump administration used Venezuelan drug operation to distract from coronavirus crisis at home, officials say

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President Donald Trump’s plan to crack down on drug traffickers near Venezuela in an apparent attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus was a mission developed months ago to pressure President Nicolás Maduro and had nothing to do with it with the alleviation of the disease, said senior US officials. Newsweek.

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”.

Southcom us coast guard drug trade
U.S. Coast Guard members unload contraband from a low-profile fast ship in the eastern Pacific Ocean, May 6, 2019. President Donald Trump announced a multinational and combined military deployment to intercept narcotics in the Caribbean.
Staff Sergeant Jordan Thompson / Defense Media Activities / United States Aviation

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).