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The Netherlands’ decision to release powerful retired Venezuelan general Hugo Carvajal in Aruba, arrested Wednesday at the request of US law enforcement, is a boon to the narcostate in Caracas. It will make it easier for the Obama administration to continue ignoring the corrupt and repressive regime in Venezuela.
What happens in Venezuela matters here. It’s the world’s ninth-largest oil exporter, with the largest proven petroleum reserves of any country. And that nation of 30 million people and a $400 billion economy has disproportionate influence in the Americas.
Its government has spent billions of dollars on Russian arms and abetted the criminal activities of Iran and Hezbollah.
And the Carvajal arrest could’ve rip the veil off the regime’s alliance with Colombian narcotraffickers.
Were federal prosecutors lay out their case against Carvajal in a New York courtroom, they’d reveal the involvement of dozens of senior Venezuelan officials in narcotrafficking and related crimes — exposing the regime’s lawlessness.
These revelations would have a devastating impact on a government that has been falling apart since the death of leftist strongman Hugo Chávez in March 2013.
His successor, Nicolás Maduro, is wrestling with an oil sector faltering thanks to colossal corruption and mismanagement, a collapsing economy, rampant street crime and expanding political unrest. Worse, the money’s running out, as Caracas spends down its dwindling international reserves.
Maduro’s failings have cost him the support of very poor Venezuelans who depend on government handouts and are weary of routine food shortages and blackouts.
Worse for Maduro, a cadre of Chavista military leaders have never supported him, particularly since he was promoted to the presidency over one of their own, Diosdado Cabello.
Cabello controls the National Assembly, the party machine and key elements of the military, and has used his power to wage a clandestine turf war to undermine Maduro.
Chronic food shortages and rampant street crime touched off nationwide protests in February, led by idealistic university students and joined by key opposition leaders. Maduro ordered a violent crackdown against the protesters.
While most military units remained in their barracks, national guardsmen supported thuggish militias as they waged street battles against students that left dozens dead and thousands more injured or jailed.
A bipartisan group on Capitol Hill called on the Obama administration to respond to this violence and the persecution of the opposition by pulling visas or freezing the assets of officials with blood on their hands.
But the administration has refused to act — even after Maduro scuttled talks with the opposition and placed its principal leader, Leopoldo López, on trial last week for inciting violence.
Yet Maduro’s biggest headache, according to regime insiders, is within his own movement.
A battle has been raging for months within chavismo over Maduro’s mishandling of the economy, the rampant corruption and his deference to Cuban advisers.
The rank-and-file military is particularly disgusted by the use of Cuban-trained thugs to beat and murder protesters.
Carvajal’s arrest should’ve begun exposing the regime’s criminal enterprises — and more. Since he’s one of the key henchmen who’ve been rooting out threats to Maduro from within the ruling party, plucking him off the chessboard would wreak havoc in an already unsteady regime.
For too long, the careerists running Latin America policy in the State Department have done their best to do nothing in Venezuela, largely downplaying the regime’s deep and broad ties to narcotrafficking and neglecting that country’s descent into dictatorship.
The Carvajal arrest shows that US law-enforcement officials have been doing their jobs, but US diplomats failed again.
The United States should demand an explanation of the sudden Dutch decision to respect Carvajal’s claim of diplomatic immunity. That the Netherlands put him on a plane home Sunday night should be another black eye for US diplomacy.
If it wants to show it gives a damn about Venezuela, the Obama administration should, at long last, sanction Venezuelan officials who keep their criminal regime in power by killing protesters and persecuting the democratic opposition.
That is literally the very least it can do.
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