President Hugo Chavez is hinting at impatience because Colombia hasn’t extradited a suspected Venezuelan drug trafficker who has accused one of the Chavez’s close aides of accepting bribes.
Chavez called fugitive Walid Makled a “bandit” Sunday, saying his government wants Colombia to send the suspect to Venezuela. Makled also is sought in New York on drug trafficking charges.
“We are waiting for Colombia’s government, Colombian authorities, to proceed and extradite him to Venezuela,” Chavez told state television.
“We’ve been making requests for more than a month,” he added.
Makled claims he paid bribes to the brother of Venezuela’s justice minister, Tareck El Aissami, in exchange for favours, including a government concession that gave him control of warehouses at Venezuela’s busiest cargo port, Puerto Cabello. The suspect alleged in an interview with Colombia’s RCN television network that the minister took some of the cash.
El Aissami denies any wrongdoing.
Chavez reached agreements with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos last week to repair relations and leave behind bitter disputes that severely strained diplomatic relations when Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, was in office.
Both presidents commented on their effort Sunday.
Speaking at a meeting of the Inter-American Press Association in Merida, Mexico, Santos called Chavez his “new best friend” and told an audience that the two South American leaders hope to forge stronger relations while respecting their deep ideological differences.
“That’s every head-of-state’s obligation and that’s what we decided,” Santos said without commenting on Venezuela’s extradition request.
Chavez voiced a similar view in a newspaper column published Sunday. “We’ve been able to turn the page, recognizing our differences and respecting them,” he wrote.
But Makled’s extradition could hurt their efforts, especially if Colombia — one of Washington’s closest allies in Latin America — sends the purported drug trafficker to the United States rather than Venezuela.
Santos and Chavez did not publicly talk about Makled last week during the Colombian leader’s first visit to Venezuela since taking office Aug. 7.
During an interview with Cuban state television that was also broadcast on Venezuelan state TV, Chavez accused the Central Intelligence Agency of using Makled to attempt to disrupt warmer relations between Venezuela and Colombia.
He said U.S. authorities are seeking Makled’s extradition so they can prompt him to make public allegations that Venezuelan officials co-operate drug traffickers.
“The empire is looking for any card to play” in its campaign to portray Venezuela’s government as a backer of terrorism groups and “put Venezuela on a list of countries that supports drug trafficking,” Chavez said. (Christopher Toothaker / Canadian Press)