CARACAS – U.S. officials said Monday they believe Venezuela used “threats” against Aruba to pressure it to release a powerful former general who is wanted by the United States for alleged drug trafficking.
“We are disturbed by credible reports that have come to us indicating the Venezuelan government threatened the governments of Aruba, the Netherlands, and others” to obtain the release of former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal, said a statement from U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“This is not the way law enforcement matters should be handled.”
The State Department did not elaborate on the nature of the threats it believes were used.
Carvajal returned to a hero’s welcome in Venezuela late Sunday, shortly after he was freed from custody in Aruba, a Dutch Caribbean territory that is 15 miles off the coast of the South American country.
Appearing before cheering supporters at the national convention of the ruling socialist party, President Nicolas Maduro threw his arm around the diminutive Carvajal and the two raised their arms in a gesture of triumph.
Venezuela’s diplomatic efforts to free Carvajal succeeded, Maduro said. “We rescued him,” he said, calling his return a “great satisfaction.”
Aruban authorities had acted on a request from U.S. prosecutors when they arrested Carvajal last week as he arrived to become his nation’s consul. Venezuela protested the detention, citing diplomatic immunity, but an Aruba judge on Friday determined Carvajal had yet to be accredited and ordered that he be held pending extradition to the United States.
Venezuela responded by suspending all flights to and from the popular tourist destination as well as nearby Dutch Caribbean territories, stranding several hundred passengers. After several hours of negotiations between the two governments, flights were allowed to resume Saturday.
The flight ban was considered an economic blow to Aruba since Venezuela is its second-largest tourism market behind the United States.
U.S. authorities have alleged that Carvajal is one of several high-ranking Venezuelan military and law enforcement officials who provided haven to major drug traffickers from neighboring Colombia and helped them export large amounts of U.S.-bound cocaine through Venezuela.
Psaki said his detention in Aruba had been the result of “a legitimate request … in conformity with our treaty which governs extraditions between the United States, the Netherlands, and Aruba.”
She said Washington was “deeply disappointed” by Carvajal’s release and would continue its efforts to see “that Carvajal is brought to justice.”