(CNN)The Trump administration is expected to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism as soon as Thursday and bring charges against the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, according to five sources familiar with the situation, in a momentous move that will mark a modern low point in relations between the US and the ailing socialist state.
The designation puts Venezuela in the company of only four other countries — North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria — that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” and will enable the US government to implement further crippling sanctions on the Maduro regime.
Prosecutors from the US Department of Justice are also expected to unseal criminal charges against Maduro and senior leaders from his government, the sources said. It’s unclear what specific crimes they are being accused of, but the sources said they were related to the country’s extensive drug trafficking efforts.
Attorney General William Barr is expected to announce the designation and charges at a news conference Thursday morning. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment, and CNN has reached out to the State Department, who officially makes the terrorism designation.
The official designation will come several months after a period of historic tumult in Venezuela that saw Maduro’s leadership challenged following an election condemned by international authorities and massive street protests. The US and a host of other countries and international bodies have instead recognized the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the country’s leader, and the Trump administration has waged a campaign of aggressive economic punishment
that aimed to force Maduro out of power.
The US has accused the Maduro regime of widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and the detention of Venezuelan citizens.
Members of the regime have also been accused in the past of facilitating narcotrafficking operations in the country, in part to fuel a crumbling economy marred by rampant government corruption.
Colombian officials told CNN
last year that drug smuggling in Venezuela has recently involved the Colombian leftist guerrilla group ELN, which is considered a terrorist organization by the US, working with the Maduro military.
US officials have also said that Venezuela is harboring and working
with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the reemerging Colombian insurgent group FARC, both of which are designated terrorist organizations by the US.
This story has been updated with additional background information.