By Aritz Parra, Joshua Goodman – The Associated Press
MADRID (AP) – A former Venezuelan spymaster close to the country’s late leader Hugo Chavez was extradited from Spain to New York Wednesday on drug trafficking charges 10 years ago.
Retired Major General Hugo Carvajal plans to plead not guilty in his first appearance in Manhattan federal court on Thursday, attorney Zachary Margulis Onuma told The Associated Press.
Carvajal, nicknamed “El Polo” (chicken), advised Chavez for more than a decade. He then parted ways with his Chávez handpicked successor, President Nicolás Maduro, in favor of a US-backed adversary.
He did it in dramatic fashion. A month after mass protests began calling for Senator Juan Guaidó to replace Maduro, he released a videotape from an undisclosed location calling on former military colleagues to revolt against the commander-in-chief. Because of his role as the democratically elected Speaker of the National Assembly, the United States has recognized Rep. Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
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In the end, the barracks rebellion never materialized, Guaidó’s movement vanished, and Maduro’s grip on power only strengthened. Carvajal, meanwhile, fled to Spain, fearing his arrest.
On Wednesday, parliamentary speaker Jorge Rodriguez, who is a close ally of President Maduro, called on the United States to extradite the 63-year-old former spy chief to Venezuela so he could face multiple criminal charges in his home country.
New York prosecutors alleged in 2011 that Carvajal used senior officials to coordinate the smuggling of about 5,600 kilograms (12,300 pounds) of cocaine on a jet from Venezuela to Mexico in 2006.
He allegedly arranged the transport as one of the leaders of the so-called “Sun Cartel”, which is accused of flooding the United States with cocaine. The name comes from the sun insignia worn on the uniforms of Venezuelan military officers.
“Mr Carvajal has abdicated his responsibilities to the Venezuelan people and used his position for personal gain,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Director Ann Milgram said in a statement. “The DEA and our partners stand united to bring to justice those who endanger the safety and health of the American people in any capacity.”
Carvajal also allegedly helped fund the rebels by arming the FARC guerrillas in Colombia and facilitating the transport of large amounts of cocaine to the United States through Venezuela, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
In 2020, prosecutors added Maduro and several other senior officials, a Colombian opposition leader, to drug terrorism conspiracy charges, with a minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison. One of the co-defendants, General Cliver Alcala, who also broke with Maduro, pleaded guilty last month to a minor charge of aiding the rebels.
After Carvajal’s first arrest in Spain in 2019, a back-and-forth legal battle erupted, delaying his extradition. The proceedings were also suspended for nearly two years after Carvajal disappeared while out on bail after receiving information that the Spanish National Court was ruling on his extradition.
The former general, recaptured in September 2021, continued to delay extradition on numerous appeals that were ultimately lost. He had also applied for political asylum, which Spain refused.
Goodman reported from Miami. Associated Press reporter Joseph Wilson, who lives in Barcelona, and Regina García Cano, who lives in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to the report.
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