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Official: Venezuela tried to pressure Aruba

Tuesday - 7/29/2014, 10:56pm  ET

CORRECTS DATE TO 2014 Former Venezuelan general Hugo Carvajal arrives at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Oranjestad, Aruba, Sunday July 27, 2014 after being released by authorities. Aruba's government released Carvajal who was detained on U.S. drug charges when he arrived to serve as his country's consul on the Dutch Caribbean island, sending him home Sunday night and defusing a diplomatic fight with its neighbor.(AP Photo/Pedro Famous Diaz)

DILMA ARENDS GEERMAN
Associated Press

ORANJESTAD, Aruba (AP) -- Aruba's top prosecutor said Tuesday that Venezuela ratcheted up various types of pressure against the Dutch Caribbean island and the Netherlands in recent days to try to win the release of a powerful former general wanted on U.S. drug-trafficking charges.

But Chief Prosecutor Peter Blanken said the "actions against Aruba" were not the reason authorities decided to free Venezuela's ex-military intelligence chief, Hugo Carvajal.

Blanken told The Associated Press he believes Carvajal was freed because the Dutch foreign minister, after reviewing the facts of the case, decided he had immunity from arrests.

"There were several actions against Aruba from the Venezuelan government. But as far as I'm concerned, Mr. Carvajal was released because he was found to have diplomatic immunity," Blanken said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Carvajal, who was designated to be Venezuela's consul to Aruba, was detained at the Caribbean island's airport last week on a request from U.S. prosecutors. U.S. authorities alleged Carvajal is one of several high-ranking Venezuelan military and law enforcement officials who provided haven to drug traffickers from neighboring Colombia and helped them move U.S.-bound cocaine through Venezuela.

Venezuela protested the detention, citing diplomatic immunity, though Carvajal had not yet been accredited as consul. Dutch Caribbean officials say Venezuela responded by temporarily suspending flights to Aruba and threatening to cut off fuel shipments to the neighboring island of Curacao.

Carvajal was freed from a detention center late Sunday, shortly after Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans decided he had diplomatic immunity. However, he also declared Carvajal a "persona non grata" -- a term used by governments to remove foreign diplomats.

Dutch Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Annemijn van den Broek said the decision was based solely on a review of the legal case. "In no way did any pressure exercised by anyone influence our analysis," she said Tuesday.

Blanken said U.S. media reports that Venezuela raised military pressure to try to secure Carvajal's release were "misleading."

Local authorities, he said, were alarmed early Sunday when several Venezuelan naval ships were tracked close to the territorial waters of Aruba. However, the Royal Dutch Marines found that the ships were on a normal route.

"I did not perceive the movement of the ships as a threat since they were coming back from (an exercise) on their way to their bases in Puerto Cabello," said Aruban Justice Minister Arthur Dowers.

On Monday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had said Washington was "disturbed by credible reports that have come to us indicating the Venezuelan government threatened the governments of Aruba, the Netherlands, and others" to obtain Carvajal's release.

Venezuela had publicly released a diplomatic note claiming it "could cease diplomatic, economic, energy and commercial relations with the Kingdom of the Netherlands," the State Department said Tuesday.

Carvajal returned to a hero's welcome in Venezuela. Before a cheering crowd, President Nicolas Maduro said the former general was "rescued" and called his return a "great satisfaction."

His roughly five-day detention in Aruba greatly exacerbated friction between Venezuela and the tiny Dutch Caribbean island of roughly 102,000 people that is located about 15 miles off the South American country's coast.

On Tuesday, Blanken said he was disappointed that Carvajal was not kept in custody in Aruba and extradited to the United States, which he called a "reliable partner."

"For Aruba and for people living in Aruba, it's a relief that he is gone now. But as a public prosecutor, I am disappointed that he did not go to the United States," Blanken said.

Psaki has said Washington was "deeply disappointed" by the Venezuelan's release and would continue to pursue him.

___

Associated Press writer David McFadden reported from Kingston, Jamaica. AP writer Mike Corder contributed to this story from The Hague, Netherlands.

David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd


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