Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's biggest problem was named Walid Makled. The Colombian government just confirmed, however, in an announcement from its Minister of the Interior and Justice, Hermán Vargas, that Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled -- wanted by both Washington and Caracas -- will be extradited to Venezuela, not to Washington as the US had hoped.

This is a big victory of Venezuela over the US. Colombia, which had been the main ally of the US in Latin America, had good reason to feel abandoned by the Obama Administration and preferred to pursue its own interest with Venezuela. The Obama administration has still not ratified the free-trade agreements with Colombia; and President Obama avoided visiting Colombia on his recent, first Latin American tour.

Makled made it clear that he wanted to be extradited to the U.S., and has said he would give answers to most questions only to the U.S. prosecutor. Given the policy of rapprochement between the two Latin American countries, however, it seems that the Colombian government preferred to extradite Makled to Venezuela, where the wealth of information that Makled could have provided on drug trafficking, on Chavez's links with terrorism and on Hezbollah's operations in South America will be lost for good. The Venezuelan regime can now easily "silence" the drug kingpin, who fears for his life.

Makled, alias "El Arabe," a Syrian-born Venezuelan citizen, labelled by the U.S. government one of the world's top three drug kingpins, was arrested in Colombia last August in a joint operation of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Colombian police. Ever since, he has become the object of battle between the United States and Venezuela: both countries were asking for Makled's extradition to their soil.

Makled, whom the US Drug Enforcement Agency has accused of shipping up to 10 tons of cocaine a month from Venezuela to the United States, acknowledged bribing and collaborating with highest officials of Venezuela's government — including the general-in-chief, the head of military intelligence, the commander of the Navy and some 40 generals.

In the many interviews Makled has given from his prison in Colombia, he says he has videotapes and other evidence documenting his transactions with Venezuelan generals and senior government officials, provincial governors, members of Venezuelan Congress, cabinet secretaries. He describes making payments of about $1 million a month to Venezuelan high-ranking civilian and military officials. "If I am a drug trafficker, everyone in the Chavez government is drug trafficker," Makled has said.

Further, Makled claims to have information on Chavez's help to Hezbollah and other Middle Eastern terrorist groups operating in the Venezuelan soil. Makled stated in an interview that Hezbollah is "absolutely" active in Venezuela. He also has information on the flights between Venezuela and Teheran -- a serious source of concern for the US.

As the Washington Post puts it: "The Obama administration is about to lose an extraordinary opportunity to prosecute one of the world's biggest drug traffickers. It will fail to break up a network that annually smuggles hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States. And it will miss delivering a devastating blow to the most dedicated U.S. adversary in Latin America, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez."

From the South American press:

  • Former Venezuela Ambassador calls on Colombia's Santos to extradite Makled to USA
  • Senior officers of the Venezuelan armed forces are named by the US Government as active collaborators of the FARC on drug trafficking and weapons sales
  • Makled's case has grave implications
  • Makled's lawyer demands Chavez guarantee client's safety
  • Former President Uribe: Makled should be extradite to the US not to Venezuela
  • Makled: Hezbollah works in Venezuela
  • U.S. officials fear that Makled will be silenced if he is sent back to Venezuela
  • US most interested in knowing what Makled has to say
  • Colombia authorize Makled's extradition to Venezuela
  • Makled: A contentious issue for Colombian President Santos
  • Makled arrested in Colombia in joint operation with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Obama placed Makled on a list of foreign narcotics traffickers under the Kingpin Act

April 13, 2011

Former Venezuela Ambassador calls on Colombia's Santos to extradite Makled to USA

Venezuela's former Ambassador to the United Nations, Diego Arria, makes his case to Colombia President Santos about why well-connected drug Kingpin, Walid Makled, should be extradited to the USA -- not Venezuela. Diego Arria was also the Former Governor of Caracas and Minister of Information and Tourism (1977-1978).

Dear President and friend,

In November 2010 […], you said you would keep your word to Hugo Chávez, in the sense of handing over to Venezuelan authorities drug trafficker Walid Makled once the legal procedures of extradition have been concluded. Today, the Supreme Court of Colombia authorized the extradition of the alleged Venezuelan drug trafficker, but left in your hands the delicate decision of whether to handover Mr. Makled to the United States or to Venezuela.

Given the nature and ramifications of the Makled case, no one can escape the scope of the decision you make has to go beyond the scope of the policy of rapprochement with the Venezuela regime. I don't have to emphasize to you the importance of a trial with full guarantees so that his criminal procedural rights are not violated, but that does not hide the possible connections of Mr. Makled with senior officials of the Venezuelan regime.

In this regard, I must remind you that Mr. Makled has publicly denounced high officials of the Venezuelan armed forces as direct collaborators. These reports also have been submitted to the Office of the City of New York, which has taken depositions in the prison where he remains in detention. For Venezuelans who condemn the penetration of our country by international drug traffickers, the fate of Mr. Makled is of exceptional importance to reveal comprehensively the fabric of the serious crimes for which he is charged.

Mr. President and friend: Today I write with old affection, but with the deepest concern when I see that for political commitment based on your friendship with Venezuela, you could compromise the full clarification of such serious accusations and allegations, that if true, seriously affect the future of my country. And that right should not be taken from us.

It is not my intention today to assess the policy of Colombia towards the government of my country, but I can unequivocally consider that it is not credible to consider that Colombia and Venezuela are closer since you assumed the Presidency of Colombia and it is superficial the apparent progress in the "solution" of bilateral issues. In this particular situation, I call attention to the personal interest of Hugo Chavez asking you publicly for the extradition of Makled, claiming to be "your best friend." You, and Colombia in particular, better than anyone, can assess the credibility of this statement. […]

Senior officers of the Venezuelan armed forces are named by the US Government as active collaborators of the FARC on drug trafficking and weapons sales

You also know that three senior officers of the Venezuelan armed forces are named by the Government of the United States as active collaborators of the FARC on money laundering, drug trafficking and weapons sales. Of those officers, one occupies the highest office in the Armed Forces and another, the military intelligence system. The government of Colombia, however, has done nothing to take them to justice.

If now, in addition to this already dire situation, your government were to give Mr. Makled to the regime of Hugo Chávez, this would amount to filing away the case of the most prominent criminal Latin American drug trade network -- which presumably includes civilian and military leaders of the Venezuelan regime. A network that Mr. Makled claims, counts on the cooperation of the authorities, without which it would obviously not have been possible to have a guarded warehouse in Puerto Cabello, the country's main port; an airline, Aeropostal Venezolana; and almost a monopoly on the urea produced by a state company -- a key ingredient used for processing cocaine.

None of these details are unknown to you because as the former Minister of Defense, you must have been aware of the "Mafia del Puerto," led by Walid Makled from Puerto Cabello, had links with the main organization of the FARC guerrillas and traded weapons in exchange for cocaine. And I think this aspect is of interest to the Colombian people -- that Hugo Chavez is far from their best friend.

Makled's case has grave implications

All of this means that the circumstances of the Makled case are very serious and have grave implications, and that the best thing that you could do to make a lasting friendship between Colombia and Venezuela (two nations whose interests and destinies go far beyond politics and the economy) would be to give this suspect transparent justice trial guarantees -- conditions that the Venezuelan justice system is not currently capable of providing.

Mr. President, I understand the responsibility that I take to make this letter public, but the circumstances and what is at stake in our country do not give me another choice. You have in your hands the chance to save Venezuela from the scourge that has done so much damage to Colombia. You now know exactly what I am saying with total sincerity, as a friend of yours and your admirable country. Please act accordingly. […] Latin America Herald Tribune

April 11, 2011

Makled's lawyer demands Chavez guarantee client's safety

The lawyer of Walid Makled asked Colombia to demand that Venezuela protects his client's safety […] Defence lawyer Miguel Angel Ramirez said "We hope that the government of Colombia will demand that the government of Venezuela respect the security [and] human rights [of Makled], that he not be subjected to a forced disappearance, cruel and inhumane treatment and that he continues to be able to make the claims he has been making in Colombia."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said […] he plans to extradite alleged narco-trafficking Makled, alias "El Arabe" to his home country of Venezuela, even though the US subsequently requested his extradition. Makled claimed that he would only divulge information about his alleged connections to Venezuela's military and political elite if were extradited to the US, and said in that the Venezuelan justice system was too politically biased to guarantee him a fair trial.

Makled is wanted on charges of aggravated homicide, money laundering, narco-trafficking, as well as the murders of a Venezuelan journalist and a Colombian drug-trafficker. Colombia Reports

April 7, 2011

Former President Uribe: Makled should be extradite to the US not to Venezuela

Former President Alvaro Uribe […] [has stated that Makled's] imminent extradition to Venezuela should instead be to the U.S. […] Incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos announced […] that Makled will be extradited to Venezuela, following a decision by Colombia's Supreme Court, after both the U.S. and Venezuela had sought his extradition. Uribe believes that Makled's extradition was first requested by the U.S. and said that the operation resulting in the suspected narco-trafficker's capture in August 2010 involved American personnel, indicating that their interest in his arrest precedes that of the Venezuelan government.

"It is an American judge who asked for Mr. Makled [first] and it was an operation of U.S. DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] agents and Colombian police that permitted his capture in Cucuta," he said. This contradicts the Colombian government's position that Venezuela were the first to seek Makled's extradition, an issue that Santos said was a key factor in determining the extradition destination, alongside the relative gravity of the alleged crimes charged against him. 'In cases like this, when a Venezuelan citizen is required by two countries, prevalence is given to the one who made the request first,' said Santos […]

It is seemingly for this reason that Uribe noted "there is not an implicit order but an explicit [one]," although he maintained that he was "respectful" of the measures taken by Santos regarding Makled's extradition. […] Makled is accused by the [US Drug Enforcement Administration] DEA of cooperating with the FARC to distribute cocaine to the United States and has admitted himself to having connections with Venezuela's political and military elite. He has said furthermore that he will only divulge information on these connections to U.S. investigators if he is extradited to the United States. He is wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges and in his home country for similar drug-related crimes, as well as the murder of a journalist and a Colombian narco-trafficker. Colombia reports

April 4, 2011

Makled: Hezbollah works in Venezuela

The drug kingpin Walid Makled, currently incarcerated in Colombia, might have knowledge about the FARC and Hezbollah operating in Venezuela. In a television interview from La Picota prison in [Colombia's capital] Bogota, jailed Venezuelan drug trafficker Makled, alias "El Arabe," said he will only speak to United States investigators about the alleged involvement in cocaine trafficking by Venezuela's political elite, as well as the possibility that terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and the FARC are operating in Venezuela. When asked by [Spanish-language television network in the United States] Univision reporter, Casto Ocando, if he had any relation to the FARC, Makled responded, "That is what I would say to the American prosecutor." He was then asked if he had maintained relationships with terrorist organizations that operate in Venezuela such as Hezbollah to which the Venezuelan of Syrian decent responded, "This is also what I would say to the American prosecutor." "But we could say that there are operations in Venezuela?" asked the interviewer. "In Venezuela? Of course!" responded the kingpin. "[…] they [Hezbollah] work in Venezuela. [Hezbollah] make money and all of that money they send to the Middle East," he said.

U.S. officials fear that Makled will be silenced if he is sent back to Venezuela

U.S. officials fear that Makled will be silenced if he is sent back to Venezuela and investigators could miss an opportunity to break up a very powerful drug trafficking nexus. When asked if he has received any concrete threats from Venezuela while incarcerated in Colombia the soon to be extradited drug trafficker said, "For that reason I am making these announcements. If something happens ... So that the whole world knows what is happening." Colombia Reporter

March 31, 2011

US most interested in knowing what Makled has to say

Rather than putting alleged Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled behind bars, the US government is primarily interested in knowing what the detainee in Colombia has to testify, said William R. Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Washington has also requested Colombia to hand over Syrian-born Makled, Brownfield acknowledged. However, "from our point of view, the most important issue is to ensure that we receive any information that Makled has which could be relevant for a future prosecution (of the alleged drug kingpin) in the United States," AP quoted. "This is our essential goal and I guess that the final decision about the extradition could be sort of triangular" arrangement between the United States, Colombia and Venezuela, Brownfield responded to a question from a US senator. El Universal (Venezuela)

March 26, 2011

Colombia authorize Makled's extradition to Venezuela

The [Colombian] Supreme Court Friday authorized the extradition of an alleged Venezuelan drug trafficker but is leaving the decision of whether to send him to his home country or the United States up to President Juan Manuel Santos.

Walid Makled alias 'El Arabe' is wanted by Venezuela as he is accused of attacking the government of President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution but also by the U.S.; he was placed on a list of significant narcotics traffickers under the Kingpin Act in 2009 by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Makled: A contentious issue for Colombian President Santos

According to Chavez, "the Empire [the U.S.] is trying to get Makled extradited to the US. Washington wants to use this to invent all sorts of accusations about the Bolivarian Revolution, against its political and military leadership, thus including Venezuela on a blacklist of countries that support narco-trafficking."

The Supreme Court approved the extradition upon finding that all identity requirements were met. This case may become a contentious issue for President Santos because he must decide whether to grant the extradition to the North American superpower or to its Latin American neighbour. Colombia has a history of extraditing criminals to the US but President Santos enjoys a cordial relationship with President Chavez. Colombian Reports

August 20, 2010

Makled arrested in Colombia in joint operation with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

[…] Colombian national police commissioner Oscar Naranjo announced that Walid Makled, a Venezuelan citizen, was arrested in a suburb of the Colombian border city of Cucuta, in a joint operation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Venezuelan Prosecutor General has requested that Caracas's First Tribunal approve a request for Makled's extradition. The Venezuelan is wanted for extradition by a New York district court on drug trafficking charges and is one of the world's most wanted men on Interpol, due to his alleged involvement in numerous murders in Venezuela.

Makled is believed to have connections with FARC's principal cartel and would trade weapons for cocaine with the the guerrilla organization. Naranjo said that Makled's criminal organization, which he called "one of the most powerful mafia organizations in South America," exported an estimated ten tons of cocaine to the U.S. each month. Makled is believed to be responsible for Valera's assassination on January 30, 2008 in Merida, Venezuela. Valera, leader of the notorious Norte del Valle cartel, was one of the world's most wanted drug lords at the time of his death. […] Colombia Reports

August 20, 2010

Obama placed Makled on a list of foreign narcotics traffickers under the Kingpin Act

Walid Makled last year said Venezuela's justice system was too politically biased to guarantee him a fair trial. Authorities also accuse him of being behind the murder of [Venezuelan] journalist Orel Sambrano, who wrote articles linking the Makled family to illegal activities including drug trafficking.

In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama placed Makled on a list of significant foreign narcotics traffickers under the Kingpin Act, denying him access to the U.S. financial system. Colombian Reports

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