BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Authorities in Aruba announced Thursday that they arrested a close confidant of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who was sent as that country's consul to the Caribbean island despite being sanctioned by the U.S. government on charges of drug trafficking.
Hugo Carvajal, the former head of military intelligence under Chavez, was arrested at the request of the U.S. prosecutors and is expected to appear in an Aruban court Friday.
Carvajal was one of a number of high-ranking Venezuelan military officials blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury in 2008 for allegedly providing weapons to Marxist rebels in neighboring Colombia and helping them smuggle cocaine to fund their insurgency. Despite the charges, he remained close to power circles in Venezuela and in January was appointed consul to Aruba by Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro condemned the arrest, calling Carvajal detention a kidnapping that violates international law and the Vienna Convention granting diplomats immunity from arrest.
"Yesterday we witnessed an ambush against a soldier of the fatherland," Maduro said in a fiery speech at a military ceremony in the western state of Zulia. "We don't want problems with anyone in the world, but if Venezuela's dignity is violated, Venezuela will respond with sufficient strength. We won't let our honor or that of any Venezuelan be sullied by campaigns orchestrated from the empire."
Venezuela's foreign ministry urged the Netherlands, which manages foreign affairs for the otherwise autonomously run Aruba, to immediately free Carvajal, warning that commercial and diplomatic ties could be affected.
There was no immediate comment from the Dutch government.
Officials in Aruba said they were initially confused about whether Carvajal had immunity since he holds a diplomatic passport from Venezuela. However, they went ahead with the detention because he had yet to receive his accreditation.
"Immunity is always linked to a function," prosecutors' spokeswoman Ann Angela said in a phone interview. "And he does not have any function here in Aruba. He is not the consul general; therefore he has no immunity."
U.S. prosecutors now have 60 days to formalize their extradition request, Angela said.
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