Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady, Efrain Campos and Franqui Flores, were arrested yesterday in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, and charged with conspiring to traffic approximately 800 kilos of cocaine to the US. The pair appeared before a New York district judge this morning, where they were indicted and charged. Predictably, the Venezuelan government has responded by labeling the arrests “imperialist ambushes.” Relations between Venezuela and the US have deteriorated to the point where neither country has ambassadors, and the DEA has been aggressively pursuing top officials believed to be involved in narco-trafficking.
There is a history of Venezuelan officials aiding and abetting drug trafficking. Walid Makled, notorious Venezuelan drug lord of Syrian descent, has developed a rap sheet of criminal behavior including drug trafficking, money-laundering, and murder. The Colombian government arrested Makled in 2010 in the border city of Cucuta.
After his arrest, both the United States and Venezuela were vying for him; the United States considered Makled one of the foremost drug lords in the world and Venezuela was worried Makled would expose the high level of involvement by Venezuelan military and government officials in the billion dollar drug-trafficking operation that was being run out of the country.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos offered to extradite Makled to the US, but the Obama administration mysteriously declined the offer, undermining years of law enforcement work in passing on a high-value intelligence target. In the end, Makled was extradited to Venezuela.
At the time, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was alarmingly persistent in acquiring Makled, possibly because he had made accusations that he funneled millions of dollars to top Venezuelan government officials involved in global cocaine trafficking as well as assisting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah. His insistence to reign in Makled included reestablishing gas lines and paying back any debt owed to the Colombian government.
Although the United States declared Makled a wanted criminal, once the Colombian government offered him, the US Department of Justice was not interested in his extradition. The United States’ failure to take advantage of the opportunity to interrogate and try Makled sacrificed “intelligence collection on FARC, the Chavez regime, Islamist groups operating in Latin America” as well as possibly unraveling a “criminal network that ties Islamist terror groups with narco-traffickers and America’s adversaries in this conflict.”
Currently, Diosdado Cabello, president of the Venezuelan national assembly, is under investigation by the DEA. It is alleged that he heads an organization known as the “Cartel of the Suns” so named for the solar insignia worn by Venezuelan army officers, which Cabello was before entering politics.
Other prominent alleged members of the cartel include Hugo Carvajal, former Venezuelan military intelligence chief who was arrested in Aruba in July of last year on a DEA warrant. Carvajal, who had just arrived in the Netherlands Antilles island as Venezuela’s consul, managed to avoid extradition to the US by successfully invoking diplomatic immunity. This same tactic was tried by Campos and Flores yesterday, who were carrying diplomatic passports despite not having any official positions. Mindful of the precedent set by Carvajal, the DEA quickly requested and was granted extradition of the pair by the Haitian authorities.
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