Appeasing Maduro: Case Shines Light on Biden Policy Failures

Maduro family members are sent back to Caracas after being convicted in America on drug charges while a courageous investigating journalist gets sued for exposing a narco state.

AP/Ariana Cubillos, file
The Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, at Caracas on July 11, 2022. AP/Ariana Cubillos, file

“So I am sued in court, and the narco-nephews are now free in Caracas,” a Venezuelan-born journalist, Maibort Petit, laughingly tells the Sun in between court sessions at New York, where she spends much of her time covering criminal cases involving her home country. She’s talking about a situation that throws the failure of President Biden’s policies into sharp relief.

In 2019 Ms. Petit published a book titled, “Cocaína en Miraflores: Crónica del narco poder en Venezuela” — “Cocaine in Miraflores: Chronicle of Drug Power in Venezuela.” Miraflores is President Maduro’s official residence. Two of the main figures exposed in the book were Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores — nephews of Mr. Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores. 

The two Floreses were arrested in Haiti in 2015 by America’s Drug Enforcement Agency for possessing 800 kilograms of cocaine. Ms. Petit covered the New York trial, in which they were convicted on felony drug trafficking charges. In 2017, they were sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Mr. Biden last week personally approved a clemency for the two convicted cocaine traffickers, nicknamed “narcobrinos” — narco-nephews. They were part of a prisoner exchange with Venezuela, in which five Americans incarcerated by the Maduro regime were released. 

The two cousins are widely believed to be connected to a shadowy group inside Venezuela’s military, known as the “sun cartel,” that is thought to be involved in a wide range of criminal activities, including the narcotics trade in America. During the trial, though, lawyers for the nephews said that they were merely involved in “bungling discussions of a drug plot that could never actually have been executed.”

Nonsense, Ms. Petit says. “I spoke with the DEA sources, and they showed me ample proof” that the two men were deeply involved in the cocaine trade. The prosecution argued they attempted to distribute narcotics worth up to $20 million to help keep their family in power. 

The Flores cousins were arrested after an insider tipped off the FBI of their intent to transfer cocaine to New York through Haiti. One of the informants was assassinated mob-style shortly after the two men were extradited to America. 

The deal that sent Mr. Maduro’s family members back to Caracas was widely reported as a White House attempt to revive the faltering Venezuelan oil industry to make up for last week’s OPEC+ oil production cut. In reality, the Venezuelan oil industry is in shambles and will be able to affect global demand no sooner than in a few years, if ever. 

In the spring Mr. Biden sent emissaries to Caracas, where they dangled removing American-imposed oil-export sanctions. They also floated removing from our sanctions list a former oil executive, Carlos Eric Malpica, who is yet another nephew of Mr. Maduro’s wife. Also discussed was a prisoner exchange involving the convicted narco-nephews. 

Last week, in exchange for the two convicted drug dealers, five American executives of the Texas-based Citgo oil company, which until 2019 was fully controlled by the Venezuelan regime, were returned to America. They’d been arrested in 2017 for trumped-up — no pun intended — embezzlement charges after having a fallout with the regime. 

Meanwhile in Caracas, a bookshop owner friend of Ms. Petit was arrested after she sent the bookdealer a few copies of her book, the one detailing the connection of the Maduro regime to the narcotic trade. 

“It’s a narco state,” Ms. Petit says. Her shoe-leather journalism is based on interviews, hard-to-get documents, court filings, and her own knowledge of her homeland of Venezuela. In addition to her writing for various Spanish-language publications, she publishes a blog and runs a YouTube channel. 

None of which is palatable to a regime under which the free press does not exist. “I expose them publicly, so they claim I’m CIA,” she says. Shortly after publishing the book on the narco-nephews, Ms. Petit was sued by relatives of the drug dealers she’s exposed and was accused of undermining the Maduro regime.

Ms. Petit has no access to her properties in Venezuela. Her domain name, MaibortPetit.com, was stolen and now belongs to a real estate agent in Singapore selling homes in Japan. Her YouTube channel is regularly hacked — and is inundated with advertising for pornographic materials. 

“The people trust me because they know I’m a serious journalist,” Ms. Petit says. “But the regime, they do what regimes in Russia, China, and Iran do — they say I’m CIA.” 

The indictment, she says, is meant to intimidate and undermine her credibility. Under her lawyer’s advice she decided not to mount a defense in Venezuela’s kangaroo courts. She has stopped all her trips to Caracas.

“I have an American citizenship and we do not have an extradition treaty with Venezuela,” Ms. Petit says. While at New York, therefore, she feels safe. “At least for now,” she then adds, noting that Mr. Biden is trying hard to appease the Maduro regime. 


The New York Sun

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