Mérida, November 16th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Today, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed his intention to extradite accused Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled-Garcia to Venezuela, a promise he made to his Venezuelan counterpart during bi-lateral talks held earlier this month in Caracas.
Walid Makled-Garcia was detained on August 19th in the Colombian border town of Cúcuta and is currently being held at the Cómbita Maximum Security Prison in the Colombian state of Boyacá. Makled is accused of drug trafficking and other crimes by both Venezuela and the United States, and his fate has become a point of contention between the two countries.
According to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, attempts to extradite Makled to the U.S. are politically motivated. “The empire’s game here is to offer who knows how many opportunities to this man, including protection, so that he may begin to vomit out all he wants against Venezuela and the [Venezuelan] president,” said Chávez on November 10th.
Meanwhile, U.S. Congressman Connie Mack accused the U.S. State Department of not doing enough to secure Makled’s extradition to the United States. “The unacceptable transfer of drug kingpin Makled-Garcia and his vital information to Venezuela instead of the United States would mark a devastating loss for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the combined fight against drug trafficking, and the security of the entire region,” Mack said in an interview with the Miami Herald published on Tuesday.
“If we could get Makled here [to the U.S.], I think he could provide a lot of evidence about the Venezuelan government’s involvement in narco-trafficking,” affirmed Mack, who is the Florida-based ranking member of the Congressional Subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere.
Mack also expressed concern over Venezuela’s growing influence in Latin America and the Obama administration’s posture towards the Venezuelan government. “By refusing to take a harder line with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the [Obama] administration has allowed this dangerous thugocrat to gain a foothold in the region,” Mack concluded.
To Be Sent to Venezuela, as Promised
“I gave my word to Chávez, and as soon as all the judicial workings are done the extradition to Venezuela will take place. I am a man of my word,” said Colombian President Juan Santos during a televised address to the Colombian people on Tuesday in which he discussed his first 100 days in office.
“When we captured [Makled], Venezuela’s request for extradition came long before the U.S. request. Venezuela’s petition is not only related to drug trafficking but also to other crimes,” affirmed Santos.
Makled, also known as “El Turco” or “The Turk”, faces charges in Venezuela for drug trafficking, money laundering and involvement in three separate murders, including those of two Venezuelan journalists who were investigating his economic assets and possible ties to the drug trade.
According to BBC News, the Makled family owns and operates a number of warehouses, a transportation firm, and the rights to storage units in Puerto Cabello – Venezuela’s most important international port.
Walid Makled himself owned and operated the commercial airliner, Aeropostal Airlines, until the Venezuelan government seized the firm earlier this month as part of its anti-drug trafficking efforts.
The Makled family made national headlines in 2008 when brothers Abdalá and Alex were arrested for possession of over 400 kilos of cocaine found at one of their estates. At the time of the arrests, Abdalá was mayoral candidate for the city of Valencia, Venezuela’s 3rd largest city with a population of over 1.5 million.
Walid Makled went into hiding at that time and only reappeared in mid-August after his arrest by Colombian authorities.
In statements made after his arrest, Makled accused a number of high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government of participating in his illegal networks, including the director of Venezuela’s National Anti-Drug Office (ONA), Néstor Reverol, as well as Army General Henry Rangel Silva, recently promoted to Commander in Chief by President Chávez.
“If I’m a drug trafficker, all of those people who worked with me are also drug traffickers… Many people ate from these companies; putting it simply, people from high-up in the government,” Makled stated.
Makled also stated that he contributed US$ 2 million to the 2007 constitutional reform referendum that was favored by the Chávez government; a contribution he says helped him secure favors and protection by members of the Venezuelan government.
During a recent trip to Havana, President Chávez accused the U.S. of seeking to “use” the Makled case to take Venezuela “to an international criminal court.”
“This same Makled has said that he has all the information he needs to allow the U.S. to intervene [in Venezuela] just like it did in Panamá to take Noriega. That is the dream of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, and the empire is looking for whatever card it can pull,” affirmed Chávez in reference to former Panamanian President Manuel Noriega who was overthrown during the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama.
After the invasion, Noriega was captured and flown to the U.S., charged with drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering and spent almost 20 years in a U.S. prison before being extradited to France on similar charges.
According to Chávez, “[Makled] has with great ease given himself the assignment of declaring that he is a victim of persecution, that he has financed the electoral campaigns of President Chávez, that he has financed generals, governors, ministers.”
“If he says he has financed someone, let him prove it, but while he faces justice. It’s all the more reason we are interested in having the Colombian government and authorities fulfill their commitment [to extradite Makled to Venezuela],” affirmed Chávez.
Extradition to the U.S.
On November 4th, a federal court in Manhattan, New York, indicted Makled on one count of conspiracy to import cocaine to the United States. A DEA report published in September cites evidence that Makled coordinated the trafficking of several tons of cocaine from Venezuela to the United States between 2006 and 2010.
In 2009, the U.S. government classified Makled as one of the world’s most significant drug kingpins under the U.S. Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, citing his participation three years earlier in the transporting of five tons of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico using a DC-9 private airplane.
According to Vanda Felbab-Brown, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, Venezuela’s 2005 decision to cut ties with U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has made it easier for narcotics to move through Venezuelan territory.
A White House memorandum released in September included Venezuela in a list of “major illicit drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries for the fiscal year 2011.”
According to a September 2010 article published by Venezuelanalysis.com, the U.S. “presented Venezuela’s anti-drug efforts in a positive light during the early years of the Chávez administration, when Venezuela was collaborating with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). But since Venezuela severed ties with the DEA in 2005 on suspicion that the agency was spying, the US government has repeatedly classified the Venezuelan government’s anti-drug program as a failure.”
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s National Anti-Drug Office reports an increase of both drug-related detentions and illegal drugs confiscated since it stopped collaborating with the U.S. anti-drug agencies. According to the ONA, during the 2002-2005 period and with DEA support, a total of 6,836 people were arrested on drug-related charges and 202,562 kilos of illegal drugs confiscated. During the 2006-2009 period, and after ties were severed with the DEA, a total of 22,833 people were detained on drug-related charges and 233,326 kilos of illegal drugs interdicted.
According to the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN), Venezuelan security agencies seized over 55 tons of drugs in the first 10 months of 2010, which puts the government on track to surpass its drug interdiction record for 2009.