In an unprecedented gesture of diplomacy, Colombian officials have announced that an alleged Venezuelan drug trafficker arrested earlier this year will be extradited to Venezuela instead of the United States, reports Colombian daily El Tiempo.
The suspect, Syrian-born Walid Makled, stands accused of smuggling tons of cocaine into the US from airstrips that he owned through his company’s airline, Aeropostal, which was nationalized by the Venezuelan government following the arrest of Makled and his three brothers, Alex, Basel, and Abdala, last year. Walid was arrested in Colombia in August. Although Venezuelan authorities requested Makled long before American officials, the latter has a long history of extraditing criminals accused of drug trafficking, and it was widely expected that Makled would face charges in a US court. According to Colombian President Manuel Santos, the decision to extradite Makled was the result of an agreement between him and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. “I gave my word to President Chavez,” said Santos, “that once the judicial processes are completed we would hand this individual over to Venezuelan authorities.” The Venezuelan publication El Universal recently reported that Chavez believed a trial in the US might be used to wrongly implicate his government in drugs trafficking, possibly justifying international sanctions against him. In exchange for Makled, Chavez has announced that he will hand over guerrillas captured in Venezuela to Colombian officials. These announcements represent a significant change in relations between the two countries, which have been at odds.