Colombian Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras confirmed yesterday that his government would hand over Walid Makled to Venezuelan authorities within the next five days. Lleras confirmed that the decision was made since Venezuela filed the request for extradition before the U.S. Furthermore, Lleras acknowledged that Makled is wanted on more serious charges in Venezuela including the murder of a journalist.
Lleras thus confirmed remarks by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos where he said that Makled would be extradited in exchange for two alleged “big drug lords” currently in Venezuela.
The upcoming extradition of Makled is just the latest chapter in the improved ties between Venezuela and Colombia since Santos assumed the presidency last year. Over the past week alone Santos praised his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, for extraditing a pair of suspected guerillas to Colombia. Last weekend Santos and Chavez met and signed a number of bilateral agreements such as improving trade relations. More importantly, Santos helped broker a meeting between Chavez and Honduran leader Porfirio Lobo that could ease the Central American country’s return to the Organization of American States.
The Colombian government’s decision was heavily criticized by some U.S. legislators and right-leaning publications as a diplomatic failure of the Obama administration. Ardent anti-Chavez Rep. Connie Mack claimed that having Makled in U.S. custody “would have been a huge victory in our region's drug war." An editorial in the Investor’s Business Daily went as far as comparing sending Makled to Venezuela to the U.S. not seeking the extradition of Osama Bin Laden from Sudan in 1996.
Makled previously claimed that he would only divulge information on alleged ties between the Chavez administration and narcotraffickers if her were sent to the U.S. Yet Makled could change his tune after Lleras mentioned "we have given full access to the American government for any matter they consider useful" and that such access was already underway.
As reported on the Christian Science Monitor’s website, Makled provided hints of some of his accusations during a recently aired interview on Univision:
Makled did not directly address allegations that he is a drug lord, as US prosecutors claim, but said that he regularly paid millions of dollars in bribes to Venezuelan government and military officials to gain lucrative business concessions…The Makled affair has also deepened the rift between two former close-knit allies: ex-president Alvaro Uribe and Santos who served as defense minister under Uribe. In a tweet posted today Uribe claimed that the U.S. “intent” to seek Makled should’ve surpassed Venezuela’s “formal” request. After Santos declared on Monday that Venezuela was free of FARC rebel camps, Uribe implied the opposite in a series of tweets tagged "terrorist hideaway".
He claims at one time to have had as many as 40 generals on his payroll, though he says he didn’t have to recruit any of them. “It was more like they recruited me,” he told the interviewer with a laugh.
In the interview, Makled also says Hezbollah is “absolutely” active in Venezuela but is saving the details for the court. “They make money and then send all that money to the Middle East.”
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