Just over two weeks after he was captured, Venezuela has handed over Colombian drug trafficker Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias “Valenciano,” to US authorities.
Bonilla was presented to US counter-drug officials at Caracas international airport on Thursday and led to a US-bound plane. He will now be tried by a court in the US on charges of shipping tons of cocaine into the country through Central America and Mexico, with the assistance of Mexico’s Zetas drug cartel.
The Colombian drug lord, who led a number of factions of the Medellin-based Oficina de Envigado gang, was arrested in November in the Venezuelan city of Maracay, in a joint operation carried out by Venezuelan police and Interpol. He had allegedly been tracked for around two years by the Colombian police intelligence, DIPOL, who informed Venezuelan authorities of his whereabouts.
The US government had issued a warrant for Bonilla’s arrest and had offered a reward of up to $5 million for any information leading to his capture.
The timing of the arrest, which occurred just hours before Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was set to visit Caracas, was no doubt intentional, as the Venezuelan government is in the process of restoring diplomatic ties with Colombia. Bonilla’s capture offered Venezuelan officials an opportunity to demonstrate the tough stance the country is now taking against organized crime and drug trafficking.
Venezuela has historically been viewed in some quarters as a safe haven for drug traffickers due to the apparent willingness of the government to shelter some high-profile criminals from extradition.
Bonilla’s extradition represents the first time Venezuela has sent a convicted or alleged criminal directly to the US, since Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999. In 2006, Venezuela freed Dominican Holguin Ovalle, who was wanted on drug trafficking charges in the US.