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Venezuela's ex-spy chief arrested in Madrid on US warrant

AP  |  Madrid 

Venezuela's longtime was arrested Friday in by acting on a US drug warrant a few weeks after he threw his support behind opponents of

The arrest of retired Hugo Carvajal, who for more than a decade advised the late leader Hugo Chvez, was celebrated by US law enforcement officials who watched helplessly as the spymaster slipped from their grips five years ago when he was picked up in on the same indictment used to order Friday's arrest.

But some analysts said his surprise detention might have a chilling effect on Venezuela's opposition.

The opposition saw Carvajal's criticism of Venezuela's socialist government as a stimulus to prod other military figures to defect, but the country's armed forces have remained largely loyal to current Maduro.

Prosecutors in alleged Carvajal used his high office to coordinate the smuggling of approximately 5,600 kilograms of cocaine from to in 2006, according to the indictment.

A with Spain's National Court, which handles extradition cases, said that Carvajal would testify Saturday before a in He can either accept the extradition to the or fight it before the court, explained the official, who wasn't authorized to be identified by name in

Carvajal, who climbed the ranks in since he befriended Chvez in the early 1980's, is no stranger to U.S. law enforcement agencies.

In previous indictments, authorities also named Carvajal as part of several high-ranking and law enforcement officials who provided a haven to major drug traffickers from neighbouring

The group became to be known in as the "Cartel of the Suns" because top officers in the country wear sun insignias on their uniforms.

Carvajal also allegedly provided weapons to armed FARC guerrillas in Colombia, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, and helped fund the group's activities by facilitating shipments of large amounts of U.S.-bound cocaine through Venezuela.

In 2014, he became the highest-ranking Venezuelan ever arrested on a US drug warrant. But authorities in the island of Aruba, where Carvajal was serving as Venezuela's consul, refused to extradite him under intense pressure from Maduro.

Carvajal, known in his country by the nickname "El Pollo (the Chicken)" eventually returned home, where Maduro received him as a hero, but soon after took a low-key presence in the country's turbulent In 2017, he broke with the over Maduro's plans to create a constitutional assembly that gutted what was left of the opposition-controlled congress.

In mid-February, when Carvajal announced his support for in a video distributed on social media, the former said was in as ramshackle a state as the nation as a whole.

"We can't allow an army, in the hands of a few generals subjugated to Cuban instructions, to become the biggest collaborator of a dictatorial government that has plagued people with misery," he said at the time, asking fellow military to join him.

As recently as two days ago, Carvajal remained hopeful that other former peers would follow his steps. But despite constant pleas by Guaid and the for them to flip, the remains largely behind Maduro.

"I have no doubt," he wrote in his feed, that "Maduro will leave by a decision of the "

Former American said hopes in and foreign policy circles that Carvajal could serve as bridge for other top-ranking generals to defect were misguided.

He said that the culture of corruption that Carvajal represented and has long plagued Venezuela is precisely what needs to be uprooted.

"How did a narcogeneral from Venezuela, who has been indicted in the US, evade red notices to travel to " said Noriega, who oversaw policy toward Latin American at the State Department during the presidency of

"Last time he was arrested, the let him slip away. I hope the won't let that happen again.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, April 13 2019. 12:20 IST