- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2020

President Trump extolled the success Friday of a U.S. military counter-narcotics operation in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific Ocean, saying it’s part of his mission to protect America from illegal drugs and traffickers.

“We’re taking the fight directly to the sinister criminal cartels, and we’re showing them no mercy,” Mr. Trump said during a visit to the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Doral, Florida.

The president announced the operation on April 1, directing a surge of federal military ships, helicopters, patrol aircraft and personnel to curtail smugglers. Officials said they have seized more than 120 metric tons of cocaine — about $1 billion worth — and have arrested more than 1,000 suspected traffickers.

“We’re determined to keep dangerous drugs out of our country and away from our children,” Mr. Trump said. “This operation has been incredibly successful.”

The president cast the operation as part of his overall law-and-order agenda.

“I will not have open borders,” he said. “We will not abolish the police. We will not slash the budget for our military, and we will not allow our country to be swamped with deadly drugs.”

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said the operation has “neutralized” dozens of members of international criminal cartels. He said the U.S. is receiving help from 22 nations in the effort.

“We will maintain our enhanced presence in the region,” Mr. Esper vowed.

White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien pointed to Venezuela as a prime source of the illicit drug smuggling. He blamed President Nicolas Maduro, who is not recognized by the U.S. and dozens of other nations as the lawful leader of the country, as having a “criminal hold over Venezuela.”

“Venezuela is a narco-state led by a corrupt, criminal, illegitimate regime, and the people of Venezuela are suffering because of Maduro,” Mr. O’Brien said.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden called Mr. Trump’s trip to Florida “a photo-op and a distraction from his failures” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Just like his response to this pandemic, the president has been unreliable and self-centered in his approach to the issues closest to the Venezuelan people,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “As president, I promise to take real action to help the Venezuelan people by granting Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans already in the United States, leading an international response to address the humanitarian situation affecting millions of Venezuelans, targeting government officials and their cronies involved in corruption and human rights abuses, and restoring democracy in Venezuela and aiding in the country’s long-term recovery.”

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