CARACAS, Venezuela — A day after Venezuela’s former drug czar was indicted in the United States on narcotics trafficking charges, President Nicolás Maduro defiantly named him interior minister.
Maduro said Tuesday that he was promoting Néstor Reverol to the position that oversees law enforcement as a gesture of support for a man who had done good work cracking down on the drug trade in Venezuela and is being tarnished by the “U.S. empire.”
U.S. prosecutors on Monday announced the indictment of Reverol, who previously led Venezuela’s National Guard, where senior officers are alleged to have been involved in cocaine smuggling.
“He is a brave man who is not afraid of anything or anyone,” Maduro said. “As interior minister he broke the record for arrests of drug kingpins. The DEA and all the United States drug-trafficking mafias want to make him pay, because the drug-trafficking mafia runs the Untied States.”
Also on Tuesday, Maduro removed economic czar Miguel Peréz, appointed six months ago, who had been seen as a potential moderate reformer in the socialist president’s Cabinet.
Together, the moves seemed to signal that Maduro is doubling down on his existing strategy of antagonizing the U.S. and refusing to make significant economic reforms.
The Reverol indictment unsealed in federal court accuses the general of taking bribes in exchange for helping cocaine traffickers by tipping them off about raids. It also alleges that from January 2008 to December 2010, he deliberately allowed cocaine shipments to leave Venezuela and returned seized drug money to traffickers.
Reverol, 51, has denied using his positions to facilitate the trafficking of cocaine.
The U.S. has indicted and sanctioned several other Venezuelan officials, including a former defense minister and head of military intelligence. Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady are currently jailed in New York as they await trial for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.
Venezuelan officials have regularly accused the U.S. of using drug cases to destabilize the government, and Maduro has a history of reacting to U.S. sanctions against officials by handing out promotions.
The opposition said the Cabinet reshuffle was further proof that Maduro was committed to radicalizing the country and breaking off relations with neighbors.
“Maduro is determined to shut himself off from the world,” opposition congressman Luis Florido said.