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Maduro at a 2018 independence day parade. Photo: Federico Parra/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. unsealed drug trafficking charges Thursday against President Nicolás Maduro and other senior Venezuelan officials.

Why it matters: It's a highly unusual indictment of a head of state that comes 14 months after the U.S. recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's president. Maduro remains in power, even as the U.S. has insisted he step down and said all options were on the table if he did not.

  • The Trump administration has stepped up its sanctions — more will be announced Thursday, per NBC News — but not managed to topple Maduro.
  • The State Department is offering $15 million for information that could lead to Maduro's capture.

Venezuela is in the midst of one of the world's worst economic crises and millions have fled the country, overwhelming Colombia and other countries in the region.

  • The Trump administration has worked to block the regime's revenue streams, which include oil, gold and drugs.
  • The Venezuelan opposition is demanding democratic elections (Maduro rigged the last presidential vote), but has limited leverage.

What they're saying:

“For more than 20 years, Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the FARC, causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities. Today’s announcement is focused on rooting out the extensive corruption within the Venezuelan government — a system constructed and controlled to enrich those at the highest levels of the government. The United States will not allow these corrupt Venezuelan officials to use the U.S. banking system to move their illicit proceeds from South America nor further their criminal schemes.” 
— Attorney General Bill Barr

The bottom line: Even some of Maduro's critics concede a compromise will be needed to break this damaging deadlock. The Trump administration's position remains that Maduro must go.

Read the charges.

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Health workers prepare vaccine doses in Iseo, Italy. Photo: Stefano Nicoli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Driving the news: The announcement comes as health experts and scientists warn of the more transmissible coronavirus variants, per Reuters.

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