Spain Extradites Hugo Chavez Spymaster to U.S. on Narco-Terrorism Charges

In this Jan. 20, 2016 file photo, Hugo Carvajal gives an interview at the National Assembl
AP Photo/Fernando Llano

CARACAS, Venezuela — Spain extradited the former head of Venezuela’s military intelligence, Hugo Carvajal, to the United States on Wednesday after a Spanish high court ordered his immediate extradition on Tuesday.

Carvajal’s departure occurs after the European Court of Human Rights denied his final efforts to avoid extradition, the end of a lengthy process that began with his initial arrest in 2019 and included numerous appeals, his disappearance, and recapture in 2021.

Carvajal, a retired general of Venezuela’s armed forces, faces multiple narco-terrorism charges after being indicted by the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in 2020, 2019, and 2011. In 2014, the Southern District of Florida also charged him with conspiracy to import cocaine. Some of the charges against Carvajal include allegations of having personally coordinated a U.S-bound shipment of 5.6 tons of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico.

He is expected to arrive in New York on Wednesday, according to information provided to Reuters by his lawyer, Zach Margulis-Ohnuma.

The Venezuelan ex-spymaster served as director of the nation’s Military Intelligence Directorate (DGIM) between 2004 and 2011 during the rule of late socialist dictator Hugo Chávez. Carvajal would then reprise the role under socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro between April 2013 and January 2014, after which Maduro designated him Consul General of Venezuela in Aruba. Carvajal was later elected to serve as a lawmaker for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in 2016.

Carvajal was first sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2008 under the administration of former President George W. Bush for allegedly providing assistance to the narcotic trafficking activities of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terrorist organization.

The United States, during the administration of former President Donald Trump, issued a bounty of up to $10 million for information leading to Carvajal’s arrest and/or conviction.

The United States has accused Carvajal of being a leading figure of the Cartel of the Suns, a transnational cocaine trafficking operation composed of high-ranking Venezuelan officials and FARC members. Carvajal is also accused of having conspired with others to aid FARC in transporting large cocaine shipments, providing heavily armed security to protect FARC cocaine shipments, providing FARC with military-grade weapons, and interfering in drug-trafficking investigations.
The ex-spymaster was initially arrested in Spain in April 2019. Carvajal had entered the European country using a false Venezuelan passport under the alias of “José Mourinho.”

Carvajal fled to Spain after claiming to have broken ranks with Nicolás Maduro, expressing support for former interim President Juan Guaidó in February 2019. Maduro accused him of treason and removed him from the Venezuelan armed forces.

The United States requested his extradition after Carvajal’s arrest, but the request was rejected by a Spanish court in September 2019 on the grounds that Washington sought his transfer for “merely political” reasons.

The denial was appealed and overturned shortly afterward but Carvajal managed to escape Spain and disappear by then. At the time, Spanish police believed that Carvajal, then considered a fugitive, fled the country using another false identity.

Carvajal remained a fugitive for almost two years until he was captured in an apartment building in Madrid in September 2021 at the end of a police raid. Carvajal was reportedly able to evade arrest for nearly two years through a complex series of schemes involving wigs, fake mustaches, plastic surgery, and relocating to a new safe house every three months.

Since then, Carvajal and his lawyers carried out multiple appeals to hold off his extradition to the United States that included requesting asylum in Spain on two occasions.

Prior to his arrest in Spain. Carvajal was arrested in Aruba during his time as consul general on July 24, 2014. At the time of his arrest, the Dutch government had not yet officially accepted Carvajal’s designation as consul general and thus claimed that he had no diplomatic immunity.

Officials from Aruba’s government denounced Maduro at the time for threatening Aruba with economic and military pressure if it refused to release Carvajal. The Dutch government released Carvajal four days later on July 28, declaring him persona non grata and sending him back to Venezuela on a private flight.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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