Former Venezuelan Intelligence Director Faces Drug Trafficking Charges in the U.S.

Hugo Carvajal, a retired general and former Intelligence Director for the Venezuelan military pleaded not guilty Thursday in a New York courtroom to charges of drug trafficking, one day after he was extradited from Spain to the U.S. following an indictment by the U.S. government on drugs and firearms trafficking. 

“After many years as a fugitive following a more than decade-long criminal career, Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios arrived in the United States today to face justice for his alleged crimes, which were committed with the intent to ‘flood’ the United States with tons of potentially deadly drugs,” Damian Williams U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a statement.

U.S. federal prosecutors say that Carvajal participated in a Venezuelan government-sponsored drug trafficking operation during the Hugo Chávez administration presidency. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says Carvajal is responsible for trafficking more than five tons of cocaine to the U.S. to not only “flood” the U.S. with the drug but also enrich high-ranking Venezuelan officials. 

The U.S. Justice Department accuses Carvajal of using his position as Military Intelligence Director to support a criminal organization with close ties with the Venezuelan government going as far back as 1999.

“Corrupt government officials like Carvajal, who allegedly use their position to accept bribes and further drug trafficking activities, should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, adding, “As alleged, Carvajal abandoned his responsibility to the people of Venezuela and exploited his position for personal gain. DEA and our partners stand united to bring to justice anyone, in any position, who endangers the safety and health of the American people.”

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó in anti-government protests || 2019, Wikimedia Commons.

Originally a close ally of former president Chávez, Carvajal would eventually rebel against Chávez’s successor Nicolás Maduro. In 2019, Carvajal called for a military insurrection against Maduro, supporting the installment of a transitional government led by then-opposition leader Juan Guaidó. 

After the failure of Guaidó’s reach for power, Carvajal fled to Spain, apparently fearing retaliation by the Venezuelan government. After the Spanish government denied his request for political asylum Carvajal was prosecuted, and Spanish authorities agreed to extradite Carvajal to the United States. 

 If convicted, Carvajal faces 30 years to life in prison. His lawyer called the charges “baseless,” telling reporters outside the courtroom that Carvajal “is categorically innocent of those charges,” said Zachary Margulis. “General Carvajal looks forward to fighting these outrageous charges in court before an unbiased American jury.”

Carvajal remains behind bars while his lawyers prepare a bail proposal.

Samuel Larreal is a Venezuelan journalism student with a concentration in political science and international relations. He is interested in reporting on human rights, immigration and civic freedom.