Donald Trump sends Navy ships to crack down on drug traffickers

Forget the coronavirus crisis, I’m ordering a drugs war! Donald Trump sends Navy ships to Venezuela to target president Nicolás Maduro and crack down on ‘traffickers’ he claims are trying to exploit crisis

  • President Trump is deploying Navy ships in the Caribbean and East Pacific to prevent drug cartels from taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic 
  • Trump announced move at daily White House briefing on the virus 
  • He was joined by Attorney General Bill Barr and a slew of military officials 
  • ‘There is a growing threat that cartel of criminals, terrorists, and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain,’ he said
  • ‘We will never let that happen,’ he noted 
  • Trump administration is targeting Venezuela following a U.S. drug indictment against Nicolás Madur 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

President Donald Trump on Wednesday began his daily coronavirus briefing by announcing his administration will deploy Navy ships in the Caribbean and East Pacific to prevent drug cartels from taking advantage of the pandemic to bring supplies into the United States. 

Instead of the vice president and the usual health officials, Trump was joined at his briefing by Attorney General Bill Barr and a slew of military officials, including  Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley. 

‘As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus, there is a growing threat that cartel of criminals, terrorists, and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain. And we must not let that happen. We will never let that happen,’ the president announced. 

President Donald Trump speaks at the press briefing room flanked Attorney General William Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and  National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien

The Coast Guard Cutter James (WMSL-754) crew prepares to offload approximately 27,300 pounds of seized cocaine worth an estimated $367 million and 11,000 pounds of seized marijuana worth an estimated $10.1 million at Port Everglades

President Trump said Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft and carriers, and Air Force surveillance in Caribbean and East Pacific would be doubled to stop additional drug traffic that smugglers could be trying to move into the United States while much attention is focused on the coronavirus.

His announcement came as more than 200,000 people in the United States were infected by the disease and more than 4,000 Americans died.     

Trump’s move was a break from the daily White House press briefing to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, which has left much of the country in lock-down and which the government warns could cause 100,000 to 240,000 deaths. 

Specifically, Trump is targeting Venezuela as his administration beefs up counter-narcotics operations following a U.S. drug indictment against Nicolás Maduro.

‘The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro and his criminal control over the country, and drug traffickers are seizing on this lawlessness,’ Defense Secretary Mark Esper said after the president’s announcement.

The mission involves sending additional Navy warships, surveillance aircraft and special forces teams to nearly double the U.S. counter-narcotics capacity in the Western Hemisphere, with forces operating both in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific. Esper said the mission would be supported by 22 partner nations.

The enhanced mission has been months in the making but has taken on greater urgency following last week’s indictment of Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled socialist leader, and members of his inner circle and military. They are accused of leading a narcoterrorist conspiracy responsible for smuggling up to 250 metric tons of cocaine a year into the U.S., about half of it by sea.

‘If I was just indicted for drug trafficking by the United States, with a $15 million reward for my capture, having the U.S. Navy conducting anti-drug operations off my coast would be something I would worry about,’ said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has been among those calling for a tougher stance against Maduro.

It also comes as Maduro steps up attacks on his U.S.-backed rival, Juan Guaidó. Maduro’s chief prosecutor ordered Guaidó to provide testimony Thursday as part of an investigation into an alleged coup attempt. Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s congress who is recognized as his country’s legitimate leader by the U.S. and almost 60 other nations, is unlikely to show up, raising the possibility he could be arrested. The U.S. has long insisted it will not tolerate any harm against Guaido.

‘No matter where you sit ideologically, any move to try to bring democracy back to Venezuela requires first recognizing the criminal nature of the Maduro regime, and making moves that scare the regime into negotiating,’ said Raul Gallegos, a Bogota, Colombia-based director in the Andean region for Control Risks, a consulting group.

Trump administration is targeting Venezuela following a U.S. drug indictment against Nicolás Madur

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Raymond Evans (WPC-1110) offloaded approximately 970 pounds of cocaine and 550 pounds of marijuana last year in Miami

he Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Detroit (LCS 7) sails through the Caribbean Sea

Maduro has blasted the Trump administration’s offer of a $15 million reward for his arrest, calling it the work of a ‘racist cowboy’ aimed at getting U.S. hands on Venezuela’s vast oil reserves, the world’s largest. He also points out that the vast majority of cocaine leaves South America from Colombia, a staunch U.S. ally.

Others have faulted a U.S. plan, unveiled Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to create a five-member council without Maduro or Guaidó to govern the country until elections can be held within a year. While its the first attempt in months by the U.S. to seek a negotiated solution to Venezuela’s stalemate, coming on the heels of the indictments many say it has little hope of succeeding and likely to drive Maduro farther away from the path of dialogue.

The Trump administration has long insisted that all options are on the table for removing Maduro, including military ones. Still, there’s no indication then, or now, that any sort of U.S. invasion is being planned.

Rather, the sending of ships fits into a longstanding call by the U.S. Southern Command for additional assets to combat growing antinarcotics and other security threats in the hemisphere.

In January, another Navy vessel, the USS Detroit, conducted a freedom of navigation operation off the coast of Venezuela in a show of pressure against Maduro.

‘That presence sends a big statement about U.S. commitment, it sends a big statement to our friends, it reassures them, and then to our adversaries that those are capable performers,’ Adm. Craig Faller, the head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command, said in congressional testimony last month.

The report of the planned deployment comes two days after one of Venezuela’s naval patrol boats sank after colliding with a Portuguese-flagged cruise ship near the Venezuelan-controlled island of La Tortuga. Maduro accused the ship of acting aggressively and said it was possibly carrying ‘mercenaries’ seeking his ouster.

‘You have to be very naive to see this as an isolated incident,’ Maduro said Tuesday night on state TV.

But Columbia Cruise Services, the operator of the cruise ship, said the patrol boat fired gunshots and than purposely rammed into the liner at speed. There were no passengers on board and none of its 32 crew members were injured, the company said.

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