On Monday, September 16, Spain’s National Court rejected the United States’ extradition request of Venezuela’s previous head of military intelligence, General Hugo Armando Carvajal, instead ordering for his release by the end of the day. Carvajal, also known as “El Pollo” (the Chicken), had been held in provisional detention since he was arrested in mid-April in Madrid.
The U.S. requested extradition of Carvajal on the grounds of drug trafficking charges. In its response rejecting the request, Spain cited his previous denials to drug trafficking and claimed it found the U.S. prosecutors’ to be politically motivated. Another problem, Spanish officials explained, was that the extradition request failed to name any ‘concrete and precise’ crimes he may have committed that would justify his extradition.
Carvajal, himself, stood in the courtroom told the judges, “I am here because the United States knew I was coming, I advised Spanish authorities that I was coming. I haven’t been hiding from anyone.” His goal was to, once again, deny wrongdoing.
Carvajal’s lawyers further defended him. They told the Court the U.S. sought extradition in order to obtain the information Carvajal possesses on Venezuela’s armed forces so the U.S. could have a better chance of bringing down the current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. His attorneys also claimed that any contact Carvajal had with drug trafficking rebels was under an order from the president and with approval of Colombian authorities as part of the process to reach a peace deal that was signed in 2016.
As a result of Carvajal’s lawyers arguments, the Court determined Carvajal had, in fact, been following orders and if he were guilty of any crimes because of this matter then they would be classified as military crimes. However, Spanish law dictates that those who are accused of military crimes may not be extradited. In the end, the Spanish government has the final say on extraditions, but it tends to follow whatever is ruled by the court.
It is interesting to note that Spanish officials seemingly attempted to take advantage of Carvajal’s intel – the exact matter they accused the U.S. of doing with their extradition request. According to Carvajal’s lawyer, Ismael Oliver Romer, “The [Spanish] authorities made an offer [to gather information from Carvajal], but seeing that he had no valuable information, they did not go down that road. Everything he knows is already out there.”
For Carvajal, Spain’s decision is a massive relief. He recently became a target for the Venezuelan government, even though he worked for Venezuela’s military intelligence agency for more than a decade and was a close aide to Hugo Chavez. In February 2019, he publically supported Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president, in turn opposing Maduro’s administration, which resulted in his rank being stripped away. This was a chilling event for Maduro, who saw Carvajal’s defection as possible encouragement for other military members to abandon him. Maduro was especially worried because the Venezuelan military have largely remained loyal to him.
Given the significance Maduro placed on Carvajal’s positioning against him, Carvajal no longer felt safe and he fled the country. He first took a boat to the Dominican Republic, and then relocated to Spain. He was initially welcomed in the country but authorities later arrested him after the U.S. issued a request for his extradition.
The extradition request is one of many efforts the United States has made to bring Carvajal to the country for trial. In fact, the U.S. Department of Treasury has sought Carvajal for years on the grounds that he is suspected of providing support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels’ drug trafficking efforts, with prosecutors labeling him as a ‘narcoterrorist.’ Investigators with the Drug Enforcement Agency say he used his position to coordinate the smuggling of more than five tons of cocaine that was destined to the U.S. from Venezuela. In order to do this, he allegedly used weapons and helped protect Colombian guerrillas. U.S. prosecutors indicted Carvajal in 2011 and if he were to be brought to the U.S. for trial, he could face between 10 years to life in prison.
In 2014, the Treasury Department came close to obtaining Carvajal when he was arrested in Aruba on another drug warrant. However, to the U.S.’ disappointment, the island’s authorities rejected extradition to the U.S. and sent him back to Caracas. This latest decision by Spain is another blow to the America’s mission to try the former general in the American legal system.
It is unclear what lies ahead of Carvajal following the Spain National Court’s decision, but for the moment he will remain in the country with his wife and children.