Caracas, March 27 (IANS) The Venezuelan government slammed the indictments made by the US against President Nicolas Maduro and more than a dozen top officials for alleged drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism, and called them "unfounded".
"Venezuela denounces ... a new type of coup d'etat on the basis of vile, vulgar and unfounded accusations designed to minimize the high regard Venezuela enjoys in the fight against drug trafficking," Efe news agency quoted Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza as saying in a televised address on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, the US government announced multiple indictments against Maduro and 14 other figures associated with the Chavista regime in Caracas, as well as two dissidents from the now disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas for drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism.
Arreaza accused the Donald Trump administration of "attacking the people and their democratic institutions" while "humanity is facing the most ferocious of pandemics", a reference to the global coronavirus crisis.
On Thursday, the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Ariana Fajardo Orshan said in a virtual press conference that she had a message for all top Venezuelan officials: "The party's over."
Prosecutors in Florida and New York, where the US Justice Department filed the charges, said that over the past 20 years, the Venezuelan government has been conspiring with the FARC to ship tons of cocaine to the US.
US Attorney General William Barr said that Maduro and other top Chavista officials - including National Constituent Assembly (ANC) president Diosdado Cabello - were part of the "Cartel of the Suns", the name of which refers to the insignia worn on the uniforms of high-ranking Venezuelan military officers.
According to Barr, the socialist Maduro - as the "leader" of the cartel - and other Venezuelan officials have worked with the FARC dissidents to send some 250 tonnes of cocaine per year to the US via the Caribbean and several Central American countries, including Honduras.
"The Maduro regime is awash in corruption and criminality," said Barr at an online press conference. "While the Venezuelan people suffer, this cabal lines their pockets with drug money, and the proceeds of their corruption. And this has to come to an end."
This is the second time in US history that charges have been filed against a foreign head of state, the first being in 1989 when prosecutors in Miami charged Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega with drug trafficking, ultimately arresting him during the American invasion of that country, then bringing him to trial, convicting him and imprisoning him in Florida.
Normally, foreign leaders who are still in office have immunity from prosecution under US law and international norms.