On Thursday morning, U.S. Attorneys in Miami and New York indicted Venezuela’s former President Nicolas Maduro and 14 of his allies on drug-related charges. It was one of the few times since the indictment of Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, that the United States had declared such an informal war on a foreign head of state.
At a normal time, Venezuelans from Caracas to South Florida to Spain would have taken to the streets to celebrate. But on Thursday, most of them were homebound due to the coronavirus. So they took to Twitter.
Nicolás Maduro Moros and 14 Current and Former Venezuelan Officials Charged with Narco-Terrorism, Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Criminal Charges. Learn more: https://t.co/3PM0rePFZI pic.twitter.com/C5LVQNljPT
— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) March 26, 2020
The U.S. Justice Department offered a $15 million reward for information leading to Maduro’s arrest and up to $10 million for information about his former Vice President Diosdado Cabello, who was also indicted.
During a live stream on Thursday morning, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said that up to 250 metric tons of cocaine are trafficked from Venezuela every year.
On Twitter, Venezuelans created memes about their country’s news. Some requested the multimillion-dollar reward after tweeting the location of Maduro’s presidential house.
“Maduro is [shelled in Miraflores] with Cilia [Flores] and [Diosdado Cabello] lives in El Hatillo. I have Zelle.”
Hi @DeptEstadoPR Maduro Is Enconchao in Lookflowers with Cilia Flower and Godgiven Hair Live in the Hatillo, Tengo Zelle
— El Panda (@Noelamadre) March 26, 2020
“Go run, narco-dictators. Go hide under the Castros’ bed.”
A correr narcodictadores. A esconderse debajo de la cama de los Castro.
— RM (@Ram_ML) March 26, 2020
“Let the Hunger Games begin.”
Que comiencen los juegos del hambre.
— Ama (@AMARTORRE) March 26, 2020
One image of what appears to be Maduro without his mustache also traveled through social media, with the caption: “in case he shaves his mustache, so you can recognize him.”
Some Venezuelans thanked President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the news.
Thank you Mr. President @realdonaldtrump and @mikepompeo for your efforts with Venezuela to continually secure a future, stability and liberty in my country. On behalf of the Venezuelan community and myself, we appreciate your administration’s work, THANK YOU!!! #GodBlessYou pic.twitter.com/ZAblnjOoNe
— Barbara Palacios (@bpinspiracion) March 26, 2020
Meanwhile, some U.S. political analysts said the indictments were President Trump’s way to distract the public from his confused response to the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s cute how Trump waited to indict Nicolás Maduro until now, when there’s a pandemic and he can’t go get him. Which is the whole point. Trump is showing his supporters the illusion of strength. And he’s scaring everyone else into believing he’ll invade Venezuela, which he won’t
— Palmer Report (@PalmerReport) March 26, 2020
The DOJ announced the indictments while the world is focused on the pandemic. As Bloomberg reported, Barr said during the virtual news conference that, “as Venezuelans suffer from the virus and medical shortages, this is a time to remind them that their leaders are criminals who steal from them.”
Maduro also weighed in on Twitter to defend himself. “From the U.S. to Colombia there’s a conspiracy and there’s been an order to fill Venezuela with violence. As head-of-state, I am obliged to defend peace and stability in the entire nation from anything that comes our way. They haven’t been successful and won’t be!”
¡Ratifico mi denuncia! Desde EE.UU. y Colombia se conspira y han dado la orden de llenar de violencia a Venezuela. Como jefe de Estado estoy obligado a defender la Paz y la estabilidad de toda la Patria, en cualquier circunstancia que se nos presente. ¡No han podido ni podrán! pic.twitter.com/jpE4c8JzFr
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) March 26, 2020
Maduro’s attorney general, Tarek William Saab, also took to Twitter, but with a different topic. He announced an investigation into opposition leader Juan Guaidó for allegedly staging a coup against Maduro.
#URGENTE informo a la opinión pública que el @MinpublicoVE ha abierto una investigación contra Guaidó, Cliver Alcalá y demás colaboradores: por el convicto y confeso delito de intento de GOLPE DE ESTADO contra el Presidente @NicolasMaduro https://t.co/JBpNLWYlfM
— Tarek William Saab (@TarekWiliamSaab) March 26, 2020
The U.S. and the international community have recognized Guaidó as the country’s legitimate president.
NPR reported this is not the first time that the U.S. has indicted a foreign person for drug trafficking. The indictments could prevent Maduro and his allies from traveling outside of Venezuela.