Hugo ‘Pollo’ Carvajal, Chávez’s henchman behind bars

(CNN Español) — Hugo ‘Pollo’ Carvajal, former director of Intelligence for Venezuela, was Hugo Chávez’s trusted man and one of his closest collaborators. Now, after a long journey, he is imprisoned in Spain, waiting to be extradited to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges.

Carvajal was a key figure in Chavismo. His link with the late leader of Venezuela dates back to 1992, the year in which both participated in an attempted coup against then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez and ended up in prison.

Between 2004 and 2011, when Chávez was in power, Carvajal was in charge of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence of Venezuela. In 2004, he also joined the DISIP, the political police at that time, and later became deputy minister of the Integrated Criminal Investigation System, a position that depended on the Ministry of the Interior and Justice.

After leaving the intelligence department, the retired military man was a deputy in the National Assembly for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the ruling party.

In 2014, Carvajal’s responsibilities passed to the diplomatic sphere: the government of the questioned President Nicolás Maduro appointed him consul in Aruba. There they came to arrest him, but later they recognized his diplomatic immunity and released him.

El Pollo publicly broke with Nicolás Maduro in 2019 and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela.

Who is Hugo Carvajal? 1:28

The accusations against Hugo ‘Pollo’ Carvajal

The United States’ allegations against Carvajal date back more than a decade.

In September 2008, the Treasury Department sanctioned Carvajal on accusations that he protected drug shipments from the demobilized guerrillas of the FARC and gave the group weapons. According to the US agency, Carvajal also provided Venezuelan identity documents to Colombian guerrillas so that they could travel to Venezuela with ease.

According to the State Department, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York charged him in March 2020 with conspiracy to commit narco-terrorism, conspiracy to import cocaine and other charges related to firearms.

In 2019 he had been indicted in the same district on the same charges, and in 2011 for conspiracy to import cocaine charges. He was also indicted for this last charge in 2014 in the Southern District of Florida.

He sought refuge in Spain

Carvajal left Venezuela to take refuge in Spain. He said that he chose that country because he trusted that “its institutions would reveal the lies and inconsistencies with which the US Attorney’s Office” persecutes him. However, he later attacked the Spanish authorities: “Far from protecting me, the Spanish Government and the National Court have committed serious irregularities against me,” he said.

In April 2019, the Spanish Police arrested Carvajal for the first time at the request of the United States, but he was released after a court decision decided to deny the extradition request of the Venezuelan. A decision of the plenary session of the Spanish National Court that same year reversed that ruling and the police began a new search to arrest Carvajal, who by then was already unaccounted for.

The case took a new turn in September, when after a complex operation in close coordination with the DEA, the police found Carvajal and arrested him.

Chronology of the case

April 12, 2019 – The Spanish Police detain Carvajal at the request of the United States.

September 16, 2019 – The Spanish National Court confirms that the judge who handled Carvajal’s case has decided to deny his extradition to the United States. The section in charge argues that it was not specified “what specific criminal acts carried out by the defendant.” The ruling implies that Carvajal is immediately released again and it is the last day he is seen in public.

November 12, 2019 – The Spanish Police confirm that there is a new arrest warrant against Carvajal in force.

Spanish police search relentlessly for Hugo Carvajal 1:45

November 18, 2019 – The plenary session of the Criminal Chamber of the Spanish National Court agrees to extradite Carvajal to the United States. Carvajal calls the decision an “aberration.”

November 23 – The wife of ‘Pollo’ Carvajal, Angélica Flores, publishes a video in which she says that he said goodbye to his family two weeks ago. “He is not running from justice, he is looking for it.”

May 26, 2021 – The United States offers a reward of up to US $ 10 million for information that could lead to the arrest and / or conviction of Carvajal.

September 9, 2021 – The Spanish Police detain Carvajal who, he says, “lived totally cloistered, without going outside (sic) or looking out the window, and always protected by trusted people.” The ‘Pollo’ had undergone cosmetic surgeries and was hiding behind mustaches, beard and false wigs, according to Spanish authorities. You can read here the details of the operating complex that ended with his arrest.

Arrest of Hugo Carvajal in Madrid

September 14, 2021 – The Spanish National Court suspends in a precautionary manner the extradition of Hugo ‘Pollo’ Carvajal to the United States, arguing that it does not know where the detainee’s asylum process was at. However, two days later the Government clarifies that the asylum request made in 2019 was rejected that same year and a spokesman for the court tells CNN that the extradition may be effective once the rest of the appeals have been resolved and measures presented by his defense before the National Court itself and the Supreme Court.

With information from Rafael Romo, Osmary Hernández and Pau Mosquera