Drug lord’s extradition offers unlikely truce for neighbours

| Apr. 21, 2011 |

Published by The Times //pdf1//

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela are finally beginning to thaw, with the unlikely catalyst being one of the world’s biggest drug traffickers.

The extradition of the Venezuelan Walid Makled, El Arabe (The Turk), to his home country signifies a blow to the United States, where he is wanted for drug trafficking. He is accused of shipping up to 10 tonnes of cocaine into the US each month.

It was with US help that Colombian authorities arrested Makled on the border with Venezuela in August 2010. However, Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Colombia failed to bow to US pressure for his extradition.

Mr Santos said that Makled will go to Venezuela because he faces charges of murder there. Mr Santos added that President Chávez of Venezuela “asked first”. However, the case is more complex than his words suggest and reveals a warming of relations. Though ideologically opposed, Hugo Chávez and Mr Santos have begun to find common ground since the Colombian leader took power in August last year.

Mr Santos had accused Mr Chávez in the past of attempting to assassinate him. Now he describes him as his “new best friend”.

A resumption in bilateral trade between the two countries is the bedrock for better relations after Venezuela froze trade with Colombia.

The animosity has focused primarily on Mr Chávez’s support of Colombia’s Farc guerrillas. However, Mr Santos recently said that Mr Chávez was helping in the battle against the armed group. He added that he was confident that any guerrillas remaining in Colombia did not do so “under the umbrella of the Venezuelan Government”.

Makled has spent months accusing Venezuela’s ruling elite of being involved in cocaine trafficking, prompting fears for his safety when he returns to Venezuela in the coming weeks.