Caracas fumes over arrest of former Chavez spy chief on Aruba
Venezuelan president expresses outrage as top aide to ex-leader is held on US drug smuggling charges on Aruba after being appointed consul
The spy chief of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has been arrested on US drug trafficking charges on Aruba.
The detention of Hugo Carvajal has outraged Caracas, which had sent him as its consul to the Caribbean island.
Carvajal, the former head of military intelligence, was arrested at the request of US prosecutors and was due to appear in an Aruban court yesterday.
Carvajal was one of several top Venezuelan military officials blacklisted by the US Treasury in 2008 for allegedly providing weapons to Marxist rebels in neighbouring Colombia.
It was also claimed he helped them to smuggle cocaine to fund their insurgency.
Despite the allegations, he remained within the circles of power in Venezuela and in January was appointed consul to Aruba by Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro.
He condemned the arrest after it was announced on Thursday, calling Carvajal's detention a "kidnapping" that violates international law and the Vienna Convention granting diplomats immunity from arrest.
"Yesterday we witnessed an ambush against a soldier of the fatherland," Maduro said at a military ceremony in the western state of Zulia.
"We don't want problems with anyone in the world, but if Venezuela's dignity is violated, Venezuela will respond with sufficient strength.
"We won't let our honour or that of any Venezuelan be sullied by campaigns orchestrated from the empire."
Venezuela's foreign ministry urged the Netherlands - which manages foreign affairs for the otherwise autonomously run Aruba - to free Carvajal, warning that commercial and diplomatic ties could be affected.
There was no immediate comment from the Dutch government.
Officials in Aruba said they were initially confused about whether Carvajal had immunity since he holds a diplomatic passport from Venezuela.
But they went ahead with the detention because he had yet to receive his accreditation.
"Immunity is always linked to a function," prosecutors' spokeswoman Ann Angela said. "And he does not have any function here in Aruba. He is not the consul general, therefore he has no immunity."
US prosecutors now have 60 days to formalise their extradition request, Angela said.
Chavez was an instructor at the military academy in Caracas when Carvajal was a student there in the early 1980s.
Like many other cadets from that era, Carvajal later took up arms with Chavez in a failed 1992 coup that catapulted the young tank commander to fame and set the stage for his future rise to power through the ballot box.
Carvajal appears to have been one of Chavez's main envoys to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), frequently meeting in secret with its top commanders in Venezuelan territory, according to emails found on the computer of a rebel leader killed in a 2008 air raid.
The US government considers the FARC to be Colombia's biggest drug-trafficking organisation and has indicted all of its top leaders, including top commanders who met Carvajal.
But a push by Venezuela to secure Carvajal's release is unlikely to faze authorities in Aruba, said Michael Sharpe, a New York expert on international relations.
Although Aruba is just 24km off Venezuela's coast, it has more ties to Washington than Caracas.
Sharpe said: "Despite Aruba at one time being the location of one of the largest oil refineries in the world refining Venezuelan oil, this is no longer the case.
"Since the closing of the oil refineries in the 1980s, Aruba's No1 source of revenue has been tourism, and thus it has far more extensive ties to the US economically than it does to Venezuela."