Venezuelan arrested in Aruba may be extradited
ORANJESTAD, Aruba (AP) – A judge in Aruba ruled yesterday that the highest-ranking Venezuelan official ever arrested on a United States warrant must remain behind bars pending an extradition request on drug-trafficking charges, prompting Venezuela to cancel flights to the Dutch Caribbean island in retaliation.
Hugo Carvajal, a former head of Venezuelan military intelligence and close confidant of the late president Hugo Chavez, was arrested upon arriving at Aruba’s airport, officials said Thursday. Venezuelan authorities said Carvajal had been named that country’s consul to Aruba and enjoyed diplomatic immunity, a claim denied by an island official who said he had not yet been accredited by the Netherlands, which runs foreign affairs for its former colony.
Yesterday, a judge in Aruba ruled that Carvajal does not have immunity and must remain in custody until there’s a decision in his U.S. extradition case, according to chief prosecutor Peter Blanken.
The ruling exacerbated friction between Venezuela and the island just 15 miles off its coast.
Otmar Oduber, Aruba’s minister of transportation and tourism, said in a televised interview that flights to and from Venezuela had been cancelled. Hundreds of Venezuelan tourists were stranded at Aruba’s international airport, and Oduber said the government was checking whether they could fly Arubans out of Venezuela through Colombia.
Airport officials in Venezuela confirmed that one flight was cancelled.
The cancelations are an economic blow to Aruba because Venezuela represents its second largest tourism market. The cancelations also apply to the Dutch territories of St Maarten, Curacao, Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius.
Curacao’s government also said Venezuela would no longer supply petroleum to Curacao or Bonaire but urged people not to panic, noting it had a four-month supply available.
U.S. authorities allege that Carvajal is one of several high-ranking Venezuelan military and law enforcement officials who provided a haven to major drug traffickers from neighbouring Colombia and helped them export large amounts of U.S. bound cocaine through Venezuela.
His surprise arrest has cast a spotlight on what’s known in Venezuela as the “Cartel of the Suns”, referring to rogue, high-ranking military officers believed to have grown rich from drug-running. Top Venezuelan officers wear sun insignia on their uniforms.
Together with the unsealing Thursday of a drug indictment against two other Venezuelan officials, Carvajal’s arrest will likely also ratchet up tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela’s socialist government, which frequently accuses Washington of conspiring against it.
President Nicolas Maduro had threatened to retaliate against Aruba, unless Carvajal is freed. The president likened Carvajal’s arrest to an “ambush” and “kidnapping” that violates international law and Venezuelan sovereignty.