Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro has reportedly asked his Colombian counterpart not to extradite to the United States an alleged Cartel of the Suns member, who may hold key information on the clandestine workings of Venezuelan military officials involved in cocaine trafficking.
According to anonymous sources consulted by el Nuevo Herald, Maduro told Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos he needed a favor while the two heads of state were in Havana, Cuba at the end of June for the signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement between the Colombian government and rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).
But it wasn't until the following week that Maduro allegedly communicated to Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas that he wanted the Colombian government to do "everything possible" to prevent the extradition of Venezuelan Capt. Yazenky Antonio Lamas Rondón to the United States. Colombian authorities arrested Lamas Rondón last month following a request from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The armed forces captain is allegedly an important member of the Cartel of the Suns, a term used to describe the covert networks of Venezuelan military personnel involved in cocaine trafficking.
"He was tightly connected to some of the highest ranking officers in the Venezuelan armed forces, and operated directly with some of the key players in the cartel," one of the sources told el Nuevo Herald.
Lamas Rondón previously served as the pilot for First Lady Cilia Flores, according to el Nuevo Herald. Two of Flores' nephews were arrested on drug trafficking charges in November 2015 and are now in US custody.
InSight Crime Analysis
If el Nuevo Herald's report is accurate, it would seem to confirm what InSight Crime said following Lamas Rondón's arrest in June: he may possess information highly valuable to US authorities investigating the secretive Cartel of the Suns.
Extradition to the United States could turn Lamas Rondón into yet another informant in US custody providing intelligence on the cartel's leaders and modus operandi. In May of last year, the Wall Street Journal reported US prosecutors were investigating Maduro's number two official, Diosdado Cabello, as well as several other high-ranking officials for their involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering. Information provided by former drug traffickers and defectors from the Venezuelan military has reportedly been key to US investigations.
SEE ALSO: Cartel of the Suns News and Profile
Adding to the Venezuelan government's concerns is the country's precarious political situation. The opposition is collecting signatures calling for a recall referendum to unseat Maduro from power, whose popularity ratings have fallen sharply amid a severe economic crisis. Maduro's ouster could make corrupt government officials long protected by the Chavista regime much more vulnerable to arrest and prosecution.