- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sen. Marco Rubio’s new bodyguards, as many as three plainclothes officers, were first spotted on Capitol Hill last year just weeks after a gunman angry with President Trump shot at Republican lawmakers practicing for a congressional baseball game.

While the Florida Republican initially rebuffed related questions, details soon emerged that the extra security actually stemmed from death threats made by the man widely regarded as Venezuela’s second-in-command, Diosdado Cabello.

In the past month, U.S. Treasury officials have seized $800 million worth of assets from Mr. Cabello, a successful example, regional analysts say, of economic pain inflicted by the Trump administration’s sanctions program targeting the Caracas elite.

According to Mr. Rubio, the bullseye on Mr. Cabello’s back came about because of a shift in the administration led by hawkish new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and new National Security Adviser John Bolton.

This spring, as Venezuela’s internationally criticized presidential election handed socialist President Nicolas Maduro a new term in office, Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo advocated for sanctioning Mr. Cabello, whom U.S. officials had long suspected of drug trafficking, corruption and mineral smuggling.

Described locally as “the octopus” because of his interests stretching across Venezuela’s political and economic landscape, Mr. Cabello had long fought publicly with Mr. Rubio, a prominent member of Florida’s influential Cuban exile community, member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees and longtime critic of the Venezuelan regime.

Last summer, the battle reached a crescendo as Mr. Rubio called Mr. Cabello “the Pablo Escobar of Venezuela,” a reference to the legendary Colombian drug kingpin, and Mr. Cabello countered by calling the senator “Narco Rubio” and issuing a death threat.

A sometime critic of Mr. Trump, Mr. Rubio and the president are now presenting a united front in confronting Venezuela’s elite — a group still profiting handsomely from the country’s oil industry but now on full alert that the U.S. is after them.

“Not a month goes by that the president doesn’t bring up Venezuela to me,” Mr. Rubio said when the Cabello sanctions were unveiled. “Finally he has a team that will turn his orders into action. Like I said a few weeks ago, bringing Bolton into the NSC and Pompeo into State is bad news for Maduro and [former Cuban leader] Raul Castro.”

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