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Venezuela demonstrates the nadir of American power

maduro carvajalIt should have been a pretty straightforward case. Retired Venezeulan general Hugo Carvajal, who was a close confidant of the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and head of Venezuela’s intelligence service, was indicted in Miami on federal charges of drug trafficking. Via the Wall Street Journal:

In the Miami indictment unsealed Thursday, Mr. Carvajal is accused of taking bribes from late Colombian kingpin Wilber Varela, who was killed in 2008, and in return allowing Mr. Varela to export cocaine to the U.S. from Venezuela and avoid arrest by Venezuelan authorities.

Mr. Carvajal had long been targeted by American and Colombian investigators for what they called his active role in shipping Colombian cocaine through Venezuela and on to the U.S.

In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department put him on a blacklist that prohibited any American entity from doing business with him, alleging that he had protected drug shipments from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and provided the rebel group with weapons and logistical help. The State Department has classified the FARC as a terrorist group, and many of its leaders are wanted in the U.S.

Part of the purported evidence against Mr. Carvajal, as well as two other high-ranking Venezuelan officials blacklisted by the Treasury Department, had come from messages and memos that Colombia’s government said that its commandos found in computer hard drives they recovered from a FARC camp after they bombed it.

In January this year Carvajal showed up in the Dutch territory of Aruba with credentials accrediting him as Venezuelan consul to Aruba. Keep in mind that Aruba is not some penny-ante island republic, it is one of the four countries that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Netherlands never accepted his credentials. Finally, this month, the Obama administration took some time out from calling Republicans bad names and persecuting domestic political opposition and decided to commit a random act of law enforcement. Aruba was requested to detain and extradite Carvajal.

Mission accomplished. The Netherlands is a not only generally law abiding and anti-drug trafficking but they are a member of NATO.

Carvajal was detained. And Venezuela cried foul.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had said Carvajal was “illegally kidnapped.” And Chris Lejuez, Carvajal’s lawyer, argued that his client has diplomatic immunity, state media in Venezuela reported last week.

“No country can help another violate international treaties,” he said, according to the state-run AVN news agency.

Carvajal had a diplomatic passport and a regular passport.

The Dutch authorities initially ruled that because Carvajal’s credentials had never been accepted he did not have diplomatic status. Then a scenario right out of Monty Python took place. Suddenly, the Dutch authorities decided that Carvajal did, in fact, have diplomatic immunity and he was bundled into an aircraft and sent home.

Aruban officials on Wednesday detained Mr. Carvajal, known as “el Pollo,” or “the Chicken,” but then released him on Sunday night after the Dutch government ruled that he was protected by diplomatic immunity. The decision overruled Aruban officials who had decided that the Venezuelan had no immunity because he hadn’t been confirmed as consul by the Dutch government.

Much to the dismay of U.S. officials, Mr. Carvajal flew to Caracas on Sunday night to a hero’s welcome from President Nicolás Maduro.

How did this come about? According to the Wall Street Journal article headlined Aruba Says Venezuela Raised Military Pressure on It

The Netherlands’ release of a former top Venezuelan official wanted by the U.S. for alleged drug trafficking came after Venezuela raised economic and military pressure on two Dutch islands in the Caribbean, a top Aruban official said Monday.

Aruba’s chief prosecutor Peter Blanken said that Venezuelan navy ships neared Aruba and Curaçao over the weekend as Dutch officials were debating what to do with Hugo Carvajal —Venezuela’s former chief of military intelligence who was jailed in Aruba last week on a U.S. warrant.

“The threat was there,” Mr. Blanken said. “We don’t know what their intentions were, but I think a lot of people in Aruba were scared that something would happen.”

Mr. Blanken said Venezuela’s government also had threatened to sever Venezuela’s vital commercial air links to Aruba and Curaçao. Venezuela’s state oil company also threatened to withdraw from a contract to manage Curaçao’s refinery, Mr. Blanken said, which would have put at risk some 8,000 jobs.

They were cowed into submission by the world’s 50th largest navy (tied with Tunisia and only slightly larger than the navy of Azerbaijan. Apparently no thought was given to coordinating a response with the United States, after all, as noted above, the Netherlands are a part of NATO. The US still has the capability of deterring… one would hope… the Venezuelan freakin Navy.

[sfx: sad trombone]

The United States reacted with dismay to Mr. Carvajal’s release.

That is the state of American influence. Our enemies hold us in contempt and so do our allies.

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