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Aruba releases Venezuelan wanted in US on drug charges

28 july 2014, 10:15
0

A Venezuelan ex-military intelligence chief arrested by Aruba at the United States' request on drug trafficking charges was freed Sunday and quickly returned home to Caracas, AFP reports according to authorities.

Retired major general Hugo Carvajal had been detained Wednesday on the southern Caribbean island, where he had been designated but not confirmed as Venezuela's consul.

"It is a very brave decision by Holland to acknowledge diplomatic immunity was violated, and for international law to be restored. It takes clarity, good will and bravery," President Nicolas Maduro said upon learning of rvajal's release.

Aruba, just 27 kilometers (17 miles) north of the Venezuelan coast, is an autonomous part of the kingdom of the Netherlands.

Carvajal was, however, declared persona non grata and would be arrested if he returns to Aruba, officials said.

Back in Venezuela

Carvajal arrived on a private plane at Simon Bolivar International in Maiquetia near Caracas, at 0045 GMT, to an embrace from First Lady Cilia Flores.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua had said he received a letter from the Netherlands saying that Carvajal would be freed based on article 13 of the 1961 Vienna Convention, which applies to consular affairs.

The article allows for the head of a consular office to enter a country provisionally to work while he or she is awaiting their official accreditation, Jaua added.

Carvajal, who was nominated by Maduro in January, is awaiting the official approval of his appointment from the Netherlands.

"Finally they decided to implement the 1961 Vienna convention," Carvajal's attorney, Chris Lejuez, told broadcaster Telearuba.

"This situation is settled now. We are getting a fair outcome for Venezuela," Venezuela's deputy foreign minister Calixto Ortega told the same network.

Aruba prosecutor Peter Blanken told AFP that when Carvajal was questioned by a judge last week, Aruba authorities consulted the Dutch foreign ministry, which told them Carvajal did not have immunity.

Now, Blanken said, the ministry reversed itself saying Carvajal indeed does have it. If Aruba had had the correct information Thursday, Carvajal would not have been held, according to Blanken.

Asked why Carvajal was declared persona non grata, his attorney said the Netherlands had offered no explanation.

Carvajal, a Chavez protege

Carvajal was a long-time supporter of the late president Hugo Chavez. A graduate of Venezuela's military academy, he took part in the failed 1992 coup that Chavez, then a mid-ranking officer in the Venezuelan paratroopers, led against president Carlos Andres Perez.

After Carvajal's arrest in Aruba, the US Justice Department on Thursday unsealed a May 16, 2013, indictment charging the general with protecting drug shipments on behalf of Colombian traffickers.

The US indictment alleges he was on the payroll of Wilber Varela, a leader of Colombia's North Valley cartel, and others from 2004 to 2010.

Carvajal has been on a US Treasury blacklist since 2008 for alleged links to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), along with two other senior Venezuelan military officers who are now state governors.

Carvajal's return to Venezuela, and Aruba's failure to extradite him to the United States, is likely to further strain bilateral ties.

US-Venezuelan ties have been tense for more than a decade but they took a turn for the worse in May when Maduro's government claimed that Washington was trying to overthrow his elected, leftist government by killing him.

US officials denied the accusations.

However in July the two countries, which have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, reestablished their embassy business attaches for the first time since October.


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