Venezuelan socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro’s nephews have been sentenced to 18 years in a U.S. prison on drug trafficking charges.
Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 32, and Efraín Antonio Campo Flores, 31, who are the blood nephews of Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, were found guilty of conspiring to smuggle 1,700 pounds (800kg) of cocaine into the United States.
Prosecutors sought to put the two men away for 30 years, while their lawyers asked for a shorter sentence of ten years on the grounds that they had no prior criminal record.
“What moves me is that Mr. Campo Flores and Mr. Flores de Freitas were perhaps not the most astute drug dealers who ever existed,” he said. “They were in over their heads.”
“I’ve always been a good person,” Flores de Freitas said. “Even in jail, I tried to help those who were in a worse psychological situation than I find myself in.”
The two men, who are cousins, were initially arrested in Haiti by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as they were planning to ship the cocaine through Honduras to the United States on behalf of the Marxist terrorist group known as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
According to undercover DEA agents, Campo Flores declared that they were at “war with the United States.”
Responding to the arrest, Cilia Flores accused the DEA of “kidnapping” her nephews as part of a plan to undermine the socialist government: “The DEA committed the crime of kidnapping which, in any case, the defense is tasked with proving,” adding that they were “meddling here on Venezuelan territory, violating our sovereignty and committing crimes on our land.”
The case highlights other accusations of large-scale drug trafficking by the Venezuelan government. In March, the State Department revealed that the government allowed drug traffickers, including the notorious Mexican Sinaloa and Zeta cartels, as well as terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, to operate in the country without fear of arrest.
Meanwhile, high-level government figures, including Vice President Tareck El Aissimi, are known for their longstanding ties to many of the region’s major drug-trafficking cartels. El Aissimi has been personally sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department under the Drug Kingpin Act.
The trial has further strained relations between both countries, as the Trump administration continues to impose economic sanctions as the Maduro regime consolidates its authority by decree and increase levels of repression.
Trump has previously said he was not ruling out a military option in dealing with the Venezuela crisis, while Maduro told his military to prepare for war “to defend every inch of the territory if need be.”