Ex-Venezuela general charged with drug trafficking surrenders to US

Ex-Venezuela general charged with drug trafficking surrenders to US

Bogota (AFP) – A retired Venezuelan general has turned himself over to Colombian authorities after the United States charged him with drug-trafficking and offered a reward for his capture, local media said on Saturday.

Cliver Alcala turned himself in on Friday to the Colombians, who in turn handed him over to US authorities, the El Tiempo de Bogota newspaper said.

Washington on Thursday indicted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and several current and former top government officials for “narco-terrorism” and offered a $15 million reward for information leading to Maduro’s capture.

As part of the US Justice Department indictment, up to $10 million was offered for the capture of Alcala, who has been living in the northern Colombian city of Barranquilla for the last two years.

He was sent to New York on a flight that was granted special permission to break the total lockdown imposed by Colombia’s President Ivan Duque as part of measures to restrict the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, El Tiempo said.

Former Venezuelan security chief Ivan Simonovis, who was welcomed by US authorities last year after escaping Venezuela following 15 years of detention under the leftist regime, told AFP that he had information that Alcala was either en route to or already in New York.

“Family, I say goodbye for a while. I’m facing my responsibilities for my actions with the truth,” said Alcala, 58, in a video message published on his Instagram account on Friday.

Neither the Colombian government, nor police, nor the US embassy in Bogota responded to requests from AFP to confirm the story.

The US Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration also declined to comment.

Along with Maduro, 14 top Venezuelan officials past and present were charged with drug-trafficking by the US, amongst them Alcala, who was a close collaborator of Maduro’s predecessor, the late socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez.

Alcala retired in 2013 after Chavez died of cancer and Maduro took over.

The former general became an opponent of Maduro’s and fled to Colombia, joining forces with Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido in his challenge to the socialist leader’s authority.

The series of indictments against top Venezuelan officials is the latest attempt by President Donald Trump’s administration to force Maduro from power.

Like Guaido, the National Assembly speaker, the US considers Maduro illegitimate due to his controversial re-election in 2018 in a poll widely viewed as rigged.

Maduro hit back at Trump over the indictment, describing him as a “wretched” man who “will go down in history as the most harmful and most irrational of American presidents.”

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