Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro recently appointed Nestor Reverol as new Minister of Interior and Justice. Reverol, whose new position puts him in charge of the justice system and law enforcement has been recently accused by a Federal Court in New York of participating in a drug trafficking network and of aiding in the smuggling of cocaine into the United States.

Reverol is a former general in the Venezuelan Armed Forces, a former director of the national Anti-Drug Office and a former commander of the National Guard. Maduro’s actions are, indeed, “anti-imperialist” in nature but they are also a reconfirmation that Venezuela is a proud, no longer “in the closet” narco-state. American State Department reports have defined Venezuelan officials’ involvement in drug trafficking as “cases of corruption” within government.

Maduro’s defiant actions clearly confirm that drug trafficking is the official policy of the Venezuelan government not merely “corruption”. Furthermore, the United States is investigating a handful of additional high ranking Venezuelan officials that include among others, Diosdado Cabello (the former president of the National Assembly), Tareck Al Assimi (governor of the State of Aragua and former Minister of Interior who allegedly was responsible for providing passports to members of Hezbollah). Likewise, two nephews of Mr. Maduro’s wife were accused by a Federal court in New York of attempting to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. Already in 2009, Venezuela had been denounced as being the main country of transit for Colombian drugs enroute to the United States.

The United States has yet to react to the official drug trafficking policies of the Venezuelan government. It is not in the interests of our government to turn a blind eye to Maduro’s actions and namely to Mr. Reverol’s appointment. It must not only protest that appointment to the Venezuelan government but also take punitive actions as part of the war on drugs. Furthermore, the U.S. needs to treat Venezuela for what it is: a narco-state that affects the well-being of American citizens. I can see no better time than this to take punitive action in the form of economic sanctions and other restrictions against the entire political and military elite.

Similarly, there has been no progress on the situation of Venezuelan democracy and national dialogue as decided on at the last gathering of the Organization of American States (OAS).

At that meeting, the U.S. voted to support dialogue between the government and the opposition to solve the serious economic and political crisis Venezuela now confronts.

As expected, Maduro is undermining this dialogue. On the one hand, the Electoral National Council approved the first step taken by the opposition to move ahead with the recall referendum after the opposition was able to collect 1% of the electorates’ signatures. However, at the same time, the Maduro-controlled Supreme Court Tribunal declared the acts of the Venezuelan parliament “null and void”. Since the opposition took control of the National Assembly Maduro has used the Supreme Court to systematically block laws legislated by that body.

Interestingly enough, normalization of relations between the different branches of government was a pre-condition set by the OAS before dialogue between the government and opposition were to begin.

The actions of the Venezuelan government confirm the suspicion that it has no intention to hold a decent dialogue and even less to open up the system to democracy. All Venezuela received from the OAS was a break from international pressure.

Most recently the Vatican agreed to be a mediator in the Venezuelan crisis along with their recommendations to include former presidents Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (Spain), Leonel Fernandez (Dominican Republic), and Martin Torrijos (Panama) as part of the mediating group. These ex-presidents are considered to be sympathetic to the Venezuelan government and that is why they were accepted. However, nothing much should be expected from the Vatican. As former Uruguayan president, Julio Maria Sanguinetti and the Argentinean scholar, Guillermo Lousteau have pointed out, Pope Francis has adopted a populist position where he has expressed deep concern about the “dangers” of the market, capitalism, unlimited consumption, globalization, modernization and the rule of the wealthy (what he calls oligarchy) but has not spoken up against the authoritarianism of the Maduro government.

The Venezuelan Church has heroically resisted and has been a vocal critique of the Maduro government’s harsh authoritarianism. The Pope has spoken against violence in Venezuela but his message has been well too ambiguous. Pope Francis has met with Maduro as well as with the opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonsky and with the wife of political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez. However, the Pope has kept an equidistant relation with both sides. This may make him a fair mediator in theory but his extreme caution casts doubt on his ability to accomplish much, particularly when good mediation would require pressure on Nicolas Maduro to give up his absolute power.

The international community, including the United States, needs to speak up against authoritarian elected governments. Nothing is a better proof of this than the impotence of the Western world as the Turkish government continues its’ crackdown on its entire civil society in the aftermath of the most recent failed coup d’état.

A challenge for the next American president should be to build a real pro-democracy coalition and help set a new international consensus.

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