A Terrorist Big Fish Gets Away
The Netherlands refuses to extradite FARC ally Hugo Carvajal Barrios to the U.S.
The Netherlands’ July 27 decision to return a former director of Venezuela’s military intelligence—who had been detained in Aruba—to Caracas, rather than fulfill the extradition request of the Obama administration, is a blow to U.S. prestige.
It is also a major setback in the fight against terrorism in the Americas.
In 2008 the U.S. Treasury designated Hugo <phrase name=”Carvajal, Hugo” seoname=”” significance=”PASSING-MENTION” type=”PERSON” topicid=”” vrtysux=”PERSON|Carvajal, Hugo”>Carvajal Barrios a drug “kingpin” for “materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities” of the FARC, a Colombian terrorist organization. Treasury alleges that he not only protected cocaine shipments but also supplied the guerrillas with weapons and official documents to travel in and out of Venezuela.
Yet it’s not surprising that the Netherlands decided it would be less costly to be on the good side of the bad guys than to be on the bad side of the good guys. After six years of the Obama global retreat, any leader would be crazy to expect the U.S. to go to the mat for an ally, even one that stuck its neck out for Uncle Sam. So when Venezuela threatened military and economic retribution at the Netherlands Antilles if Carvajal was extradited, the Dutch foreign affairs minister relented.
The U.S. Treasury often distinguishes between drug trafficking and terrorism in Latin America. But Carvajal’s résumé demonstrates that the two have become inseparable. America’s voracious appetite for illegal drugs has allowed violent political actors to create powerful transnational criminal organizations.
Hugo Chávez took power in 1999 and over the years Venezuela became a government-approved transit route for the FARC’s shipments of Colombian cocaine bound for the U.S. The Venezuelan National Guard is now a FARC business partner, and for both financial and ideological reasons it ensures safe passage of the goods.
The FARC is most famous for massacring civilians, kidnapping and torturing police officers, and blanketing rural areas with land mines that maim peasants. All of this terror is done in the name of social justice for Colombians.
The efforts that Venezuela went to in order to retrieve Carvajal from Aruba would seem to confirm how much information he has about the FARC-Venezuela relationship—and perhaps much more. The FARC has a history of liaison with the Irish Republican Army and the Basque separatist group ETA. Venezuela has close ties to Iran, and security experts have long speculated that Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which operates throughout the region, has made Venezuela a key outpost.
Carvajal participated in the February 1992 military-coup attempt led by Chávez against then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez, and he remained a close confident of the pro-Castro strongman until Chávez died in 2013. He has been indicted for drug trafficking in federal court in Florida and New York. But the former head of military intelligence, from 2004-11, is also widely considered responsible for making Venezuela a haven for FARC terrorists.
In 2007, a Colombian army captain and an army corporal tracking the FARC inside Venezuela were captured by a local police department and handed over to the National Guard. In 2008, the Colombian magazine Semana published an interview with an unnamed Venezuelan National Guard officer who claimed to have been posted to the garrison where the army men were taken. He told the media outlet that Carvajal put a colonel “in charge of torturing the Colombians for several days. In some of the interrogations there was a guerrilla who we were told was from [Colombia’s other rebel group] ELN.”
After the interrogation was finished, according to the unnamed officer, Mr. Carvajal ordered that they be executed. When their bodies were eventually returned to Colombia, it was clear that they had been tortured.
In July and October 2008, the Colombian military discovered Swedish-made anti-tank rocket-launchers, lethal and easy to operate, in the hands of the FARC. It traced the serial numbers to purchases made by the Venezuelan military. Messages retrieved from laptop computers seized when Colombia bombed the Ecuador camp of FARC leader Raul Reyes that same year indicated that Carvajal was the Venezuelan official who put the bazookas in the hands of the terrorists.
In other words, Carvajal is a big fish who is tied up in stuff a lot more dangerous to hemispheric peace and freedom than drug running. Yet when the Obama administration had this notorious criminal almost within its grasp, it waited for the “process” to unfold, as if it were charging a Boy Scout with trespassing, instead of anticipating the enemy’s next move. Meanwhile, Venezuela so frightened the Netherlands that our NATO ally granted the prisoner the diplomatic immunity that only days before Aruba justice officials said he did not have.
This is asymmetric warfare. The failure to reel in Carvajal when he was in custody in Aruba raises serious doubts that the U.S. fully grasps that fact. Note to President Obama: These guys want to kill us. In the future, please plan accordingly.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com