Authorities on the Caribbean island of Aruba have arrested the former director of Venezuela's military intelligence unit on suspicion of drug trafficking and aiding and abetting Colombia's largest rebel group.
Hugo Carvajal was arrested Wednesday at the request of U.S. law enforcement officials, and the Venezuelan government confirmed his arrest in a statement Thursday.
Carvajal, a retired army general, has been wanted in the United States since at least 2008 when the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control accused him of "materially assisting" the drug trafficking activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by the Spanish initials FARC.
Carvajal is believed to be a leader in the Cartel del Sol, or Cartel of the Sun, a name stemming from the insignia of the sun that Venezuelan military officers wear on their uniforms.
U.S. counter-narcotics officials have long suspected the Venezuelan military of protecting rebels' drug trafficking activities as Venezuela has become a major exit point for drug shipments by land and air to the United States and Europe.
In a statement Thursday, the Venezuelan government responded angrily to word of the arrest, calling it illegal and in violation of international conventions covering diplomats, and demanded Carvajal's immediate release.
Carvajal was traveling with a diplomatic passport and was designated as Venezuela's consul general in Aruba, a Dutch possession.
In 2008, U.S. Treasury officials accused former Venezuelan Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin of similarly aiding and abetting the FARC rebel groups who are known to seek refuge in the mountainous and jungle regions of western and southwestern Venezuela. The United States has designated the FARC as a terrorist group.
News reports in Aruba said Carvajal may be taken to the U.S. to face charges as early as Friday.