Venezuela Kept Former Intel Chief Out of U.S. Court

With the world being on fire and all, it was easy to miss last week an intriguing piece of news: Hugo Carvajal, the former head of Venezuelan military intelligence, was arrested in Aruba. The U.S. government expected Aruban officials to extradite Carvajal -- wanted in the United States on drug-trafficking charges -- into the custody of American prosecutors.

Then the Venezuelan government launched a full-court press to get its man back. It suspended flights to the Caribbean island and sent two naval vessels suspiciously near Aruba's coast. Caracas insisted they were returning from a naval exercise, but it all smacked of intimidation. So it was perhaps no surprise -- though no less dismaying for U.S. prosecutors -- when Aruba decided to release Carvajal on Sunday, July 27.  

His return, hailed as a major victory by the Venezuelan government, was broadcast live on television:

Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president and heir to Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian revolution, praised the man and extolled the "great" general's human qualities:

The retired general was allowed to return home after the Netherlands, which handles matters of defense and foreign affairs on behalf of its former colony, Aruba, granted Carvajal diplomatic immunity. Although Carvajal was named Venezuela's consul general, he had not been officially accepted in that post, providing the State Department with what it clearly thought was the legal room to request his arrest.

U.S. and Aruban officials now accuse the Venezuelan government of using its military might to strong-arm the island nation.

"We are also disturbed by credible reports that have come to us indicating the Venezuelan government threatened the governments of Aruba, the Netherlands, and others to obtain this result," said Susan Bridenstine, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department. "This is not the way law enforcement matters should be handled."

According to federal indictments against Carvajal that were unsealed in connection with his arrest, the former spy conspired with drug traffickers to ferry cocaine into the United States by the ton. Prosecutors allege that Carvajal was on the payroll of well-known traffickers and that he invested in shipments.

In his capacity as head of military intelligence from 2004 to 2009, Carvajal was also thought to have served as a liaison between Caracas and the FARC rebel group in Colombia, which is deeply involved in that country's drug trade and has been waging a 50-year insurgency against the government. As a confidant of Chávez and a powerful spy in his own right, Carvajal used his power to oversee the drug trade and sanctioned lucrative cocaine shipments.

No wonder the Venezuelan government moved heaven and earth to keep that story from being told in a U.S. court.

EPA/Miraflores Palace


Satellite Imagery Shows Extent of Destruction in Gaza

Three weeks into the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the violence has taken a massive toll on the Gaza Strip, where more than 1,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in an aerial and ground campaign aimed at stymieing Hamas rockets and destroying the group's network of underground tunnels.

Israel has also paid a human price, with at least 48 of its soldiers killed, but the destruction has been concentrated in Gaza, whose ramshackle buildings easily give under Israeli bombardment. Recently released satellite imagery reveals the extent of that destruction.

The satellite image below, taken on July 25 and released by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, shows the neighborhood of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. Last week the neighborhood saw a U.N. school shelled, killing 16 people and wounding more than 100.

Due to its proximity to the border, this small slice of Gaza finds itself in the crosshairs. Each red square denotes a completely destroyed building; orange is a severely damaged structure; yellow is a moderately damaged one; and green denotes a crater. The analysis found 214 completely destroyed structures, 122 that were severely damaged, and 103 that were moderately damaged. The inset at the top right includes before and after photographs of a heavily damaged section of Beit Hanoun. (Click to enlarge the image.)

The image below provides a similar snapshot but over a slightly larger section of Gaza. It includes areas of Gaza City, Shejaiya, Toffah, and Shaaf. Shejaiya has been the scene of some of the conflict’s deadliest fighting and this image reflects that. According to the U.N., 700 structures have been destroyed. The inset shows that entire city blocks have been destroyed by Israeli bombardment. (Click to enlarge the image.)