BOGOTA (AP) ― A former Venezuelan general detained in Aruba on U.S. drug charges was released by the Dutch Caribbean island and sent home Sunday night, authorities said.
Venezuela’s government said Hugo Carvajal was flying to Caracas with Deputy Foreign Minister Calixto Ortega.
Earlier in the day, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua read parts of what he said was a letter from the Netherlands’ ambassador in Caracas agreeing with Venezuela’s position that Carvajal’s detention violated international law because he had been sent to Aruba as Venezuela’s consul and was carrying a diplomatic passport.
Authorities in Aruba had argued previously that Carvajal didn’t have immunity from arrest because he had yet to be accredited by the Netherlands, which manages the foreign affairs of its former colony that sits off the coast of Venezuela.
But at a hastily called news conference in Aruba’s capital, the island’s justice minister said Carvajal was being let go under a decision Sunday by the Dutch government. Dowers said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans had decided Carvajal did have immunity but also declared him “persona non grata” ― a term used by governments to remove foreign diplomats.
“The fact is that Mr. Carvajal was granted diplomatic immunity, but he is also considered persona non grata. He has to abandon our territory as soon as possible,” Dowers told reporters at a news conference in Oranjestad that was streamed live on the Internet.
Aruba’s Justice Minister and Chief Prosecutor Peter Blanken stressed that Carvajal had no accreditation to serve as a diplomat locally on the island so officials had decided to comply with the detention request from Washington based on an international treaty between the U.S. and the Dutch Kingdom.
“But that information changed today based on what Minister Timmermans of the Netherlands said. And Aruba has to follow instructions,” Dowers said.
He said U.S. officials were “very disappointed” with the decision to free Carvajal.
Carvajal served for five years until 2009 as the late President Hugo Chavez’s head of military intelligence. The two met in the early 1980s at the military academy in Caracas and later took up arms together in a failed 1992 coup that catapulted Chavez to fame and set the stage for his eventual rise to power.
His arrest Wednesday and possible extradition to the United States had threatened to further damage already fractious relations with Washington.
Carvajal was the highest-ranking Venezuelan official ever arrested on a U.S. warrant. In 2008, he was one of three senior Venezuelan military officers blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury for allegedly providing weapons and safe haven to Marxist rebels in neighboring Colombia.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are classified a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. U.S. prosecutors have indicted all of the movement’s top leadership, including senior commanders with whom Carvajal purportedly conspired, on charges of smuggling large amounts of cocaine.
Carvajal has denied any wrongdoing on those counts as well as charges unsealed this week in southern Florida that he was an associate of Wilber Varela, a major Colombian drug trafficker who was murdered in Venezuela in 2008.
The U.S. warrant has rallied supporters of Maduro’s socialist government, who regularly accuse the United States of conspiring against it.
Maduro condemned Carvajal’s arrest as a “kidnapping” orchestrated by the U.S., while Jaua on Sunday said the former general’s only crime “is having defended the life of ex-president Chavez during 15 years.”