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Colombia's Santos: Not the Friend the United States Thought

Author: Joel D. Hirst, International Affairs Fellow in Residence, 2010-2011
November 17, 2010
Latin American Herald Tribune

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Colombia's recently elected President, Juan Manuel Santos, has yet again proven that he puts regional political pressure above his commitment to Colombia's most important ally – the United States. This morning, in delivering the report for his first 100 days in office, Santos announced that he would seek extradition for Walid Makled, Venezuela's most significant drug kingpin, captured on August 18th in Colombia and wanted by the United States for drug trafficking, back to Venezuela. In his speech, he stated, “when we captured [Makled], we received the extradition request from Venezuela well before the United States. The extradition request from Venezuela is not only for drug trafficking but for other crimes.” Makled is also wanted in Venezuela for the alleged murder of journalist Orel Sambrano.

Walid Makled was designated by the White House as a drug kingpin under by the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act in 2009. Washington is very interested in his extradition, "Makled is behind bars awaiting extradition to the United States for his crimes..." said DEA agent Michele Leonhart. These crimes, for which Makled has been indicted in New York, include the trafficking of ten tons of cocaine through Mexico to the United States. However, this could be only the tip of the iceberg from a kingpin known to have managed clandestine airfields and flown cargo planes full of drugs around the world - including into West Africa, a route only just now being uncovered.

From the maximum security prison in Boyaca, Colombia Makled has implicated high level officials – both civilian and military – in the government of Hugo Chavez as complicit in the drug trade. Among these include General Rangel Silva, recently promoted by Chavez after announcing he would overthrow any future opposition government should they come to win the presidential elections in 2012. Extradition to Venezuela would effectively silence Makled, placing him out of reach of the DEA and other US agents and firmly in the grip of Hugo Chavez, who has called him a “bandit, a drug trafficker and a murderer.”

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