Hugo Carvajal, the former head of military intelligence in Venezuela during the rule of late President Hugo Chavez, has been extradited from Spain to the United States. His lawyer, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, announced that Carvajal arrived in America on Wednesday and is expected to appear in a federal court in Manhattan on Thursday.
The US Attorney’s office in Manhattan, which brought the charges against Carvajal, has confirmed the extradition. The 63-year-old Carvajal is facing drug trafficking charges. Prosecutors in New York suspect that he used his position as head of military intelligence from 2004 to 2011 and from 2013 to 2014 to support drug trafficking by the now disbanded FARC guerrilla group in Colombia. They allege that in 2006, Carvajal coordinated the shipment of 5,600 kilograms (1,235 pounds) of cocaine to Mexico, with the final destination being the United States. Carvajal, however, has repeatedly denied any links to the FARC or drug trafficking.
Carvajal’s extradition was ordered by a Spanish court on Tuesday after the European Court of Human Rights rejected his final attempt to avoid being handed over to the US. The defense had argued that Carvajal faced the “real risk” of receiving a life sentence without parole in America, but the judges in Strasbourg ruled that this claim could not be proven.
Carvajal fled Venezuela in 2019 after encouraging the military to turn against President Nicolas Maduro during a failed attempt to seize power led by US-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido. He is wanted in his home country on several charges, including treason and financing terrorism. It is also speculated that Carvajal may be of interest to the US due to his alleged possession of incriminating evidence against Maduro, who is a staunch opponent of Washington.
This is not the first time Carvajal has faced extradition to the US. He was initially arrested in Spain in 2019 but avoided extradition after a court ruled that the American request was “politically motivated.” However, judges later reversed that decision, leading Carvajal to go into hiding. He was finally arrested again in September 2021. During his time on the run, Carvajal remained in Spain, frequently changing addresses and even undergoing plastic surgery to alter his appearance.
The extradition of Carvajal marks a significant development in the ongoing tensions between Venezuela and the United States. It raises questions about the extent of Carvajal’s involvement in drug trafficking and his potential value as a witness against Maduro. The upcoming court appearance in Manhattan will provide further insights into this high-profile case.