Venezuela’s ex-spymaster to face drug trafficking charges in US court 

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK – A former director of Venezuelan military intelligence is due to appear in U.S. court on Thursday to face drug trafficking charges, following his extradition from Spain.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan say Hugo Carvajal – who was late President Hugo Chavez’s eyes and ears within the South American country’s military for more than a decade – in 2006 coordinated the shipment of 5,600 kg (1,235 pounds) of cocaine to Mexico from Venezuela.

The drugs were ultimately bound for the United States, according to prosecutors. 

Nicknamed ‘El Pollo’, the chicken, Carvajal took part in the failed 1992 coup that lifted Chavez to political prominence and is considered one of the most powerful figures of the socialist leader’s 1999-2013 rule.

Relations between Washington and Caracas steadily deteriorated during the tenures of Chavez and his successor, current President Nicolas Maduro. Dozens of Venezuelan military leaders, politicians and businessmen have been charged by the United States with corruption and drug trafficking.  

Carvajal’s expected initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stewart Aaron marks the culmination of a more than 10-year effort by the Department of Justice to bring him to U.S. soil. 

He was first arrested in 2014 in Aruba, a semi-autonomous Dutch Caribbean island where Venezuela had been trying to accredit him as consul. But he was released and returned to Venezuela after the Netherlands government ruled he had diplomatic immunity, a move the U.S. State Department called disappointing and disturbing.

Carvajal distanced himself from Maduro in 2017 by opposing the creation of an all-powerful legislature.

In 2019, after Washington recognized an opposition leader as Venezuela’s legitimate president in an unsuccessful push to oust Maduro, Carvajal released a social media video calling on the military to facilitate the “return to democracy.”

He was arrested in Spain on the U.S. drug charges later that year, but went into hiding after a court initially approved his extradition. He was re-arrested in 2021.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis)