Venezuela: Aruba to free diplomat sought by U.S.

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BOGOTA, Colombia -- Venezuela's government said Sunday that a former general wanted by the United States on drug charges would be released by authorities in Aruba and brought home shortly.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua read parts of what he said was a letter from the Netherlands' ambassador in Caracas agreeing with the Venezuelan government's position that Hugo Carvajal's detention violated international law because he was sent to the Caribbean island as Venezuela's consul and was carrying a diplomatic passport.

Authorities in Aruba had argued that Carvajal didn't have immunity because he had yet to be accredited by the Netherlands, which manages the foreign affairs of its former colony that sits off the coast of Venezuela.

There was no immediate comment from officials in Aruba and the Netherlands on Carvajal. His lawyer in Aruba didn't respond to an email and phone call seeking comment.

Jaua said President Nicolas Maduro had sent a high-level mission to Aruba on a private plane to bring Carvajal home no later than Monday.

Carvajal served for five years until 2009 as the late President Hugo Chavez's head of military intelligence. The two met in the early 1980s at the military academy in Caracas and later took up arms together in a failed 1992 coup that catapulted Chavez to fame and set the stage for his eventual rise to power.

His arrest Wednesday and possible extradition to the United States had threatened to further damage already fractious relations with Washington.

Carvajal was the highest-ranking Venezuelan official ever arrested on a U.S. warrant. In 2008, he was one of three senior Venezuelan military officers blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury for allegedly providing weapons and safe haven to Marxist rebels in neighboring Colombia.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are classified a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. U.S. prosecutors have indicted all of the movement's top leadership, including senior commanders with whom Carvajal purportedly conspired, on charges of smuggling large amounts of cocaine.

Carvajal has denied any wrongdoing on those counts as well as charges unsealed this week in southern Florida that he was an associate of Wilber Varela, a major Colombian drug trafficker who was murdered in Venezuela in 2008.

The U.S. warrant has rallied supporters of Maduro's socialist government, who regularly accuse the United States of conspiring against it.

Maduro this week condemned Carvajal's arrest as a "kidnapping" orchestrated by the U.S., while Jaua on Sunday said the former general's only crime "is having defended the life of ex-president Chavez during 15 years."

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