What is the greatest asset of the USA Navys

The US Navy warships follow the bounty

US President Donald Trump is trying to do Venezuela economically with increasingly absurd methods. Most recently, he sent his fleet to the Caribbean coast - because drug cartels were taking advantage of the corona crisis.

By Toni Keppeler

One is inclined to believe in a bad April Fool's joke: on the first day of this month, on which one is also in the mood for lying jokes, US President Donald Trump announced that he would send warships off the coast of Venezuela. They are to be supported by reconnaissance planes and prevent the United States from being "flooded" with cocaine. Has the head of state in the White House got lost on the map again?

Most of the cocaine that reaches the United States is produced in drug laboratories in Colombia, comes overland through Central America and Mexico, and is then smuggled across the border by local cartels. This has been known for decades. Colombia, with its right-wing President Iván Duque, is an ally of the USA. The Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, on the other hand, has been trying to overthrow the US government since Trump has been in office. The warlike staging of an alleged drug glut is part of an escalation that has been going on since February.

Rosneft's retreat

Venezuela got off to a relatively good start in 2020. Inflation fell significantly, and oil production stabilized at a rate of 750,000 barrels per day, sometimes even reaching a million barrels. Compared to the more than three million barrels a day in the good times before 2013, this is very little. The income was enough to ensure the distribution of basic foodstuffs in the capital Caracas and its surroundings. More than two thirds of oil exports were handled by two subsidiaries of the semi-state Russian energy company Rosneft, which had also invested heavily in Venezuelan oil fields in recent years. The main buyers were China and India.

In February, Trump imposed sanctions on Rosneft over the Venezuela business. Business slowed, China and India ordered fewer and fewer orders, and Rosneft's other international trading partners also became more cautious. The tank farms in Venezuela overflowed. In addition, there was the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which slumped the oil price by a third. The extraction of the heavy Venezuelan oil had become unprofitable.

At the end of March, Rosneft took the consequences and sold its Venezuela business to a previously undisclosed Russian state-owned company. You don't know what her name is, nor whether she has enough capital and trade connections to continue the business. Although more than half of Rosneft is controlled by the Russian state, the rest of the shares are traded on the stock exchange. The non-transparent sale was "a decision in the interests of our shareholders", quoted the Russian news agency Interfax Mikhail Leontjew, spokesman for Rosneft. The message is clear: Russia is foregoing the already unprofitable Venezuela business and thus economic support from Maduro for the time being, but wants to have its hand on Venezuela's oil reserves in the long term. These are considered to be the largest in the world.

Split the government camp

So it's getting even tighter for Maduro. He had previously applied for an emergency loan of five billion US dollars from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to be able to prepare the public health system, which has been declining for years, for the expected onslaught of sick people in view of the corona crisis looming in Venezuela. The application was brusquely denied.

Then on March 26, Trump offered a $ 15 million bounty for clues about the capture of Maduro. His attorney general William Barr provided the reason: Venezuela's head of state is a “narcoterrorist” and has been the head of a drug cartel for decades. This would have the Colombian guerrilla Farc - which was dissolved after a peace treaty since the end of 2016 - produce tons of cocaine in order to flood the US market.

An absurd charge: decades ago, Maduro was a bus driver and unionist in Caracas, a full-time job that would make a strange disguise for a drug lord. In addition, Maduro does not have to be searched, his whereabouts are known. He has public appearances almost every day and is mostly in the presidential palace of Miraflores in Caracas.

Briefly, Elliot Abrams, Trump's special envoy for Venezuela, tried to smooth out the waves caused by the wanted maneuver. But only apparently: He proposed a transitional government of national unity for Venezuela, in which the opposition, but also a few government officials should be represented - all except Maduro. This transitional government should hold new elections this year. In addition, 2,500 Cuban security advisors, whom Abrams suspects in Venezuela, would have to leave the country, otherwise democratic change would be “simply impossible”. Only then would the US sanctions be relaxed.

Juan Guaidó, the ultra-right challenger to Maduro built by the US government, welcomed the offer as expected. In view of the expected corona crisis, he said, this transitional government must "encompass all political and social sectors that are needed to be able to face the serious emergency ahead." Again that meant: Everyone can take part, with the exception of Maduro. It was just another failed attempt to split the government camp. Maduro, surrounded by his generals, rejected Abrams' proposal in a televised address that same day.

Memories of Panama

On April 1, Trump finally announced that he would move parts of the war fleet off the coast of Venezuela. This is fatally reminiscent of the US campaign against Panama a good thirty years ago. At that time, Manuel Noriega, de facto the ruler and military chief of the small Central American country, had changed from an agent of the US secret service CIA to a left-wing nationalist. In 1988 the then US President Ronald Reagan denounced him as a drug dealer and had him put out to be wanted.

Then, in December 1989, Reagan's successor, George Bush Sr., ordered an invasion called “Just Cause”: it included area bombing of the poor areas of Panama City and claimed over 3,000 victims. The attack continued until Noriega, who fled to the Vatican embassy, ​​faced the invaders.

Trump justified the use of the war fleet with the fact that drug cartels "wanted to take advantage of the corona crisis" in order to use "cocaine as a weapon against the USA". It's more likely the other way around: Trump is using the corona crisis. His attempt to economically strangle the Maduro government right now is speculating cynically on as many corona deaths as possible in Venezuela - that popular displeasure will increase even further and that the president will be swept away.

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