The Venezuelan regime has proven resilient over the years, but it may be nearing its final hours, says the National Review Institute, in an article posted on its website on April 4. The article referred to U.S. President Donald Trump’s directive to deploy additional ships, aircraft, and security forces in the eastern Pacific Ocean and in the Caribbean Sea under the authorities granted to U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
According to a White House briefing on April 1, SOUTHCOM, in cooperation with 22 partner nations, will significantly increase ongoing surveillance, disruption, and seizures of drug shipments and provide additional support for eradication efforts. The enhanced deployment includes additional Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft, and helicopters; Coast Guard cutters; and Air Force surveillance aircraft, doubling U.S. capabilities in the region. “We came upon some intelligence some time ago that the drug cartels, as a result of COVID-19, were going to try to take advantage of the situation and infiltrate our country with additional drugs,” said U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the briefing.
Expanded sanctions against Venezuela
Just over a year ago, the U.S. enacted a policy of putting “maximum pressure” on the Nicolás Maduro regime. As part of this policy, the Treasury Department expanded sanctions against Venezuela, specifically targeting oil exports and high-ranking regime officials. U.S. policymakers intended to weaken Maduro’s standing within the country and cause defections in the government and military. However, in recent years, the regime has carefully cultivated loyalty within the armed services by handing over key sectors of the economy to military leaders and embedding Cuban security personnel to stamp out dissent, according to the same article by the National Review Institute.
“When we started the maximum pressure policy in January, the president analyzed what our military assets were in the Western Hemisphere because obviously, all the options were and are on the table,” a senior administration official told the Miami Herald. “There was no balance; most of our assets were in the Middle East, Asia, etc., so he asked to recalibrate those assets to have necessary presence in the hemisphere and see where this situation was going, regarding Venezuela,” the official added.
More resources for counternarcotics
U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, SOUTHCOM commander, has been advocating for more resources for counternarcotics operations in Central, South America and the Caribbean. In a congressional hearing in March, he announced that U.S. military presence would increase in the region in terms of ships, aircraft, and security forces to “reassure partners” in combating “illicit narco-terrorism.”
Last year alone, SOUTHCOM’s operations resulted in the seizure of over 280 tons of drugs, much of which was designated for shipment to America, said U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper during the White House briefing. “While this was an incredible achievement, there’s much more work to be done. Transnational criminal organizations continue to threaten our security by smuggling cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other narcotics across our borders. These drug traffickers put our communities at risk and destroy lives. Every year, tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses and thousands more suffer the harmful effects of addiction,” the secretary added.
“As we know, annually, 70,000 Americans die on average due to drugs. That’s unacceptable. We’re at war with COVID-19, we’re at war with terrorists, and we are at war with the drug cartels as well,” concluded Gen. Milley.