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Venezuelan general linked to drug trafficking escapes U.S. grasp

Hugo Carvajal and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro during an event of the Third Congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in Caracas on July 27, 2014, after Carvajal was released in the island of Aruba. (Courtesy of the Presidential Press Office. Former head of Military Intelligence)

Former Venezuelan general Hugo Carvajal Barrios, arrested on July 23 at the request of the U.S. government when he arrived in Aruba, was released just for days later and returned to Caracas, after threats from the Venezuelan government, according to U.S. officials.

"The release of Carvajal is a misapplication of diplomatic immunity, and makes a mockery of that important principle," tweeted Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the day after Carvajal was released. "The government of #Venezuela went to bat for an indicted drug kingpin."

Carvajal, who headed the Venezuelan military intelligence for five years and is Venezuela's most senior official ever arrested by a U.S. request, was nabbed when he arrived to serve as Venezuela's consul on the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba, under an extradition accord between the U.S. and the Netherlands. Four days later, after Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro said Carvajal had been "illegally kidnapped" and threatened to sever diplomatic and economic ties with Aruba and the Netherlands, the Dutch government ruled that he was protected by diplomatic immunity and set him free. However, he was declared "persona non-grata by the Dutch government and sent back to Caracas.

Carvajal is wanted by U.S. authorities in connection to a 2008 indictment from the Treasury Department, which states that Carvajal and two senior Venezuelan military officers delivered weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels and helped them smuggle cocaine to U.S. shores to finance their operation.

Carvajal denies the allegations and other charges by a court in South Florida, which accuses him of being an accomplice of Wilber Varela, a major Colombian drug trafficker killed in Venezuela in 2008.

In a statement released Monday morning, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki states that there are credible reports that Venezuela threatened the governments of Aruba, the Netherlands and others to force the release of former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal.

Analysts point out that if the U.S. had succeeded in getting Carvajal extradited to face justice in U.S. soil, any testimony he provided regarding corruption and links to drug trafficking would be embarrassing and damaging to the Maduro government.

Opposition leaders beaten in prison, activists claim

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and deposed mayors Enzo Scarano and Daniel Ceballos were the targets of violent beatings in prison, according to the leader of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, which Lopez founded.

"In the early morning hours, Military Intelligence officials violently stormed to cells of Leopoldo López, Daniel Ceballos, Enzo Scarano and Salvatore Lucchese, for a violent search where they were brutally beaten," said Freddy Guevara, director of Voluntad Popular.

The opposition members are being held in the military prison of Ramo Verde. Their summary trial began on the 23rd of July with what their defense lawyers have claimed have been unfair advantages benefiting the prosecution.

The opposition leaders have also been denied visits from their family members over the weekend, claimed their wives during a press conference.

Follow Helena on Twitter @helepoleo