Drug trafficking to and from Venezuela has shot up 50 percent under President Nicolas Maduro, who is enriching himself by working with organized crime, the United States charged Thursday.
Maduro, a leftist who has been in power since 2013, helps crime gangs and has given refuge to terror groups, said Admiral Craig Faller, commander of the US Southern Command based in Miami.
"We're seeing an increase in drug trafficking placed out of Venezuela that is aided and abetted by the illegitimate Maduro regime," Faller told a Caribbean security conference.
"In fact, the Maduro regime has a negative impact on every single security aspect in this hemisphere. All the challenges are made worse by the Venezuelan crisis," said the admiral.
He told journalists that the Maduro government, which the United States no longer recognizes, is getting rich through drug trafficking.
"There's over a 50 percent increase of narcotrafficking in and through Venezuela, and Maduro and his cronies are lining their pockets, in cahoots with the illicit narcotrafficking," Faller said. He did not specify a timeframe for this increase.
Terror groups like Colombia's National Liberation Army and holdout members of the FARC rebel army who did not embrace a 2016 peace accord with the Bogota government are granted safe haven in Venezuela, he added.
The US Treasury has imposed sanctions on 27 entities and 22 people for drug trafficking linked to Venezuela. They include the current industry minister Tareck el Aissami, the former head of a financial intelligence agency, Pedro Luis Martin, and a prominent businessman named Walid Makled.
The US is leading international pressure to force Maduro from power and is among more than 50 countries that have recognized national assembly speaker and opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's acting president.
Since 2005, the United States has placed Venezuela on a list of countries it feels do not comply with their commitments to international anti-drug trafficking agreements.
It did so again in August, but the administration of President Donald Trump decided against restricting aid to Venezuela, so as to support the opposition led by Guaido.
The United States claims the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, shown here in a handout photo, is getting rich through drug trafficking