By Caribbean News Now contributor
ORANJESTAD, Aruba -- A top official in Aruba said on Monday that Venezuela used economic and military pressure on two Dutch islands in the Caribbean in order to secure the release of accused drug trafficker General Hugo ‘Pollo’ Carvajal, who had been arrested in Oranjestad last Wednesday night on a warrant from the United States.
Aruba's chief prosecutor Peter Blanken said that Venezuelan navy ships neared Aruba and Curacao over the weekend as officials were debating what to do with Carvajal, who had been arrested when he arrived to serve as Venezuela's consul on Aruba.
Venezuela argued that Carvajal had diplomatic immunity because he was appointed consul general in February.
"The threat was there," 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."
Blanken said Venezuela's government also had threatened to sever Venezuela's vital commercial air links to Aruba and Curacao. Venezuela's state oil company also threatened to withdraw from a contract to manage Curacao’s refinery, Blanken said, which would have put at risk some 8,000 jobs.
Venezuela temporarily banned flights to and from Aruba and Curacao but they were later resumed.
On Sunday, the Netherlands, which handles foreign affairs for its former colonies, confirmed Carvajal’s diplomatic immunity but made him persona non grata, expelling him from the country.
Carvajal, who was head of Venezuela’s Directorate of Military Intelligence from 2004 to 2009, has been accused of a number of serious offences in a federal indictment dated May 16, 2013, including assisting in the sale and trafficking of cocaine from Venezuela to Colombia, and providing narco-traffickers with protection from capture.
In 2008, the US Treasury blacklisted Carvajal and another senior Venezuelan official as "materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)".
Annemijn van den Broek, a spokeswoman for the Dutch foreign ministry, said the decision to release Carvajal was made solely on legal grounds. She confirmed Venezuelan ships had come close to the islands, but said the Dutch ministry of defence had been told by the Venezuelans that the ships were returning from a naval exercise.
"I understand that the people on the island had a sense of urgency, but we have confirmation that this had nothing to do with the case," she said.
Van den Broek declined to comment on any threats of economic sanctions by Venezuela, but said the Venezuelan government made it clear they "were not amused by the situation."
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday night that his government was "ready to do whatever it took" to get Carvajal freed.
"We are disturbed by credible reports that have come to us indicating the Venezuelan government threatened the governments of Aruba, the Netherlands and others to obtain this result," said Susan Bridenstine, a US State Department spokeswoman. "This is not the way law enforcement matters should be handled."
She said the Dutch decided to release Carvajal "on the basis of claims of immunity that are beyond established international norms."