Venezuela’s dictator Nicolás Maduro demanded an official, public apology from the United States Department of the Treasury after its announcement of a sanction on Vice President Tareck el Aissami, whom the Treasury accused of having known ties to a variety of terrorist and drug trafficking outfits.
In statements on national television Tuesday, Maduro called the sanctions on el Aissami “illegal” and “defamatory,” praising “the vice presidential comrade” for “having cojones.” The sanctions, Maduro said, “without a doubt are an aggression to which Venezuela will respond, step by step, with balance, with forcefulness.” Maduro said his Foreign Ministry had issued a “note of protest to the U.S. envoy” demanding America “grant a public apology to our executive Vice President.”
Maduro goes on to claim that, as Interior Minister, el Aissami caught 102 drug “capos” and that his work has triggered “revenge by the drug traffickers” who have paired with “the Miami mafia” to combat the Maduro government. “Miami mafia” is a phrase made famous by dictator Fidel Castro, who used it to refer to the Cuban-American community largely concentrated in that city.
Maduro ultimately concludes by blaming President Barack Obama for the sanctions, though President Donald Trump has stressed, both as candidate and in office, that he considers democracy to Venezuela a priority.
The Venezuelan Armed Forces also issued an odd statement in defense of el Aissami, claiming the sanctions “flagrantly violate fundamental principles of international rights” and accusing Washington of “Machiavellian” tactics against the socialist dictatorship. The statement goes on to call the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) “amoral” and “nefarious,” “employed in a criminal manner in affecting progressive states and governments.”
The sanctions designate el Aissami a “Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker” under “Drug Kingpin” regulations for his ties to a variety of continental drug trafficking organizations, among them “Los Zetas, a violent Mexican drug cartel… Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera Barrera and Venezuelan drug trafficker Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco.” Sanctions freeze el Aissami’s assets in the United States, which the New York Times estimates to be in the tens of millions and prevents U.S. persons from legally doing business with him.
Prior to this sanction, el Aissami’s name had surfaced in reports on Venezuelan cocaine trafficking for years. Defecting senior Venezuelan officials have accused el Aissami of being a senior member of the Cartel de los Soles, one of Latin America’s largest cocaine trafficking outlets. Reports have also accused him of ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist organization.
El Aissami reportedly played a significant role in cutting a deal with Hezbollah in which Middle Eastern nationals would receive, for a price starting at $10,000, legal Venezuelan documents. These documents, largely birth certificates and passports, would help the terrorists travel freely through Latin America. Following the broadcast of an interview with a former Venezuelan official, who claims he fled the nation’s embassy in Iraq after being informed of the passport sales to Middle Eastern nationals, Venezuela shut down broadcasts of CNN en Español in the country.
El Aissami himself has disputed the claims, posting a message on Twitter calling the sanctions a “disgrace” and “imperialist aggression.”