Liverpool, June 4th 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan authorities have apprehended one of Colombia’s most wanted drug lords in the country’s Western state of Barinas, said the Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, Tareck El Aissami on Sunday evening.
Following his capture on Sunday morning by Venezuela’s National Anti-Drugs Office (ONA), Diego Pérez Henao, aka Diego Rastrojo, has been transferred to Caracas under strict surveillance where he will probably be handed over to Colombian authorities. One of the leading members of Los Rastrojos, a Colombian paramilitary organization heavily involved in the drugs trade, Henao has been wanted since 2001.
“He is responsible for hundreds of victims, hundreds of murders and kidnappings, victims of extortion, he was wanted for his extensive record,” said Aissami, who cited Henao’s capture as another success in the government’s fight against the narco-trafficking industry.
“We captured one of the most wanted men in Latin America, this is a huge blow to international drug trafficking,” he added.
The Rastrojos are said to have between 800 and 2,000 “hitmen” working for them and operate mainly in Colombia’s Cauca Valley, although they are alleged to have connections throughout the entire country. They are responsible for trafficking tons of cocaine to the United States via Mexico.
Colombia’s President, Manuel Santos, has since congratulated Venezuelan authorities on apprehending Henao, qualifying it as a “great capture” on his twitter page. Security officers from the ONA were said to have captured Henao after a tip-off from Colombian authorities as part of the ongoing collaboration between the two countries.
According to Venezuelan Minister of Communication, Andres Izarra, the country’s authorities are now investigating possible connections between Henao and members of the Venezuelan political opposition, who infamously brought 116 Colombian paramilitaries to Venezuela in 2004 with the intention of overthrowing the government.
Henao’s capture comes a week after the national government revealed the results of its Jaque Mate counter drugs operation for May 2012. According to the report, Venezuela’s armed forces destroyed 36 secret landing strips used to transport cocaine across the continent in the Venezuelan border state of Apure. They also destroyed 11 aircraft, 16 storage warehouses and 6 vehicles.
Presenting the report, El-Aissami confirmed that the government had also managed to decrease the amount of illegal flights operating in Venezuelan airspace by 50% and that the country is internationally recognized for its efforts in the struggle against the drug trade.
“Firstly, Venezuela is not a producer nation of drugs and it has also been declared a territory free of drugs for the past 6 years by the United Nations, this is due to the efforts of our Revolution,” said Aissami.
The government is also continuing to step up its military presence on the Venezuela-Colombia border, where it sent 3,000 extra troops last month after an attack by Colombia’s FARC guerrillas allegedly killed 12 Colombian troops. Venezuelan President Chavez reiterated that the national government would not allow “the presence of any illegal groups” on Venezuelan territory, whether they are paramilitary organizations or guerrilla groups.
Colombian President Manuel Santos is currently attempting to continue his predecessor’s “demobilisation” campaign, which claimed to have disarmed Colombia’s armed paramilitary organizations under the government of President Uribe. Many human rights organizations have been critical of Uribe’s human rights record against political activists whilst affording impunity to demobilized paramilitaries, many of whom have since regrouped under the name of the Black Eagles.