As Venezuelan twitterstorm rages, some ask if Maduro indictment was a distraction

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.

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.”

“Go run, narco-dictators. Go hide under the Castros’ bed.”

“Let the Hunger Games begin.”

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.

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.

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!”

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.

The U.S. and the international community have recognized Guaidó as the country’s legitimate president.

NPR reported this is not the first time the U.S. has indicted a foreign person for drug trafficking. The indictments could prevent Maduro and his allies from traveling outside of Venezuela.

Alejandra Marquez Janse is a Venezuelan journalism student minoring in political science. She is passionate about understanding policy and informing people on issues that affect them.