Is it Noriega Time for Venezuela's drug-linked, Hezb'allahed-up dictator Maduro?
Up until now, I've been pretty happy with the U.S. approach to Venezuela. The Venezuelans call the shots, setting up the legal infrastructure for transition rule (based on Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez's own constitution, no less), the international community supports them, the Citgo oil earnings are transferred to the legitimate leaders, the sanctions flow on the remaining dictatorship, the pressure is quite open for the Venezuelan military to defect, and the humanitarian aid for the starving flows. Venezuelans themselves (in their millions, as the street protests show) are in the driver's seat. The picture is one of them taking back their country, their once great democracy, and it's a great example for all nations under detestable socialist dictatorships to follow.
But the dictatorship's vicious burning of humanitarian aid trucks full of food and medicine, as hungry Venezuelans ran into the burning trucks to try to claw it back, and dictator Nicolás Maduro's grotesque crowing about the whole spectacle, has left even the legitimate government of President Juan Guaidó declaring "all options are on the table."
Maybe the aid can get in through air drops. Maybe it can get in through in smaller batches less likely to be noticed by the border goons determined to make sure Venezuelans stay hungry.
But Guaidó seems more open to cutting to the chase and just getting the dictatorship out of there. He's meeting with Vice President Mike Pence in Colombia today, and Pence says there will be some "concrete actions." In other words, there won't be "stern warnings." Maybe that means more sanctions, maybe air drops, or, the hot one, U.S. military intervention.
This raises the point that it might just be Noreiga Time for Maduro.
Would the U.S. yank him out of there, as it did the former Panamanian dictator, back in 1989?
Well, if you remember the story, Noriega was taken out by U.S. Marines precisely because he was a drug-dealer.
Panamanians whom I spoke with a few years later on a trip there — and these were people from the leftist party there — said they were happy it happened, even though there had been local casualties, which they said numbered more than a hundred deaths. That was because Noriega was running a reign of terror on Panamanian activists in the neighborhoods, killing many of them, as well as using drug-dealing during the crack epidemic as his money stream. He got extricated by the U.S. Marines, and Panamanians said they were better off for it. Today, Panama is one of Latin America's leading success stories, with the highest (or one of the highest, depending on the data) per capita incomes in the hemisphere. You never hear about Panamanian illegal aliens in the U.S.
Scroll over to Venezuela, and look at the drug-dealing details there:
Former head of Venezuela's intelligence services Hugo Carvajal revealed powerful ties between the administration of President Nicolás Maduro and the Hezbollah terrorist group, as well as wide-spread corruption and drug activity, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
The nefarious activities were directed by Maduro himself as well as Interior Minister Néstor Reverol and former vice-president Tareck El Aissami.
Allegedly, those who were meant to combat drugs were engaged in trafficking them, Carvajal said.
El Aissami was not only a drug kingpin, said Carvajal, but also had connections to Hezbollah, and attempted to arrange Hezbollah terrorists to work with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] through Venezuela.
In a meeting that took place in 2009 Hezbollah terrorists met El Aissami and Carvajal in Syria and gave the two Venezuelan state representatives three assault rifles as gifts.
Whatever this is, it's a helluva lot more than what we took Noriega out for. Noriega was a threat. Maduro? He sounds like a mega-threat. And don't forget that Maduro's wife also has two household relatives sitting in a U.S. prison for actual drug-dealing, picked up by the DEA in Haiti in the act of transporting actual drugs. The drug involvement is thick with the Maduros.
And surprise, surprise: The guy who designed the take-out-Noreiga plan just happens to be the same guy who's serving as special representative for Venezuela at the State Department these days — none other than Elliott Abrams.
Whether we take out Maduro in the Noriega-style or not, one thing is for sure: we have a guy at the helm who knows exactly how to do it.
What's interesting is that Abrams is a neo-con, and in the collective mind of the left, this story of Venezuelan government drug-dealing and Hezb'allah-allying is now coming out in the Jerusalem Post. The left insists that neo-cons are all in bed with Israel, and the story picked up is a couple days old, which raises the possibility that it was put there, maybe by an Abrams ally, just to make Maduro more paranoid.
If so, very clever to play on their prejudices.
But one also hopes it's a warning to Maduro to just get the heck out and save us the trip. Mexico or Cuba should be glad to take him. That said, the freakish Maduro may just get his Noriega time anyway if the Venezuelans want it. If he does, the justification and timing are more than perfect.
Image credit: Camera screen shot from NBC News.