Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, right, and Venezuelan retired Major General Hugo Carvajal in Caracas on Sunday. / Presidencia de Venezuela/AFP/Getty Images
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - U.S. officials said Monday they believe Venezuela used "threats" against Aruba to achieve the release of a powerful former general who is wanted by the United States on drug-trafficking charges.
"We are disturbed by credible reports that have come to us indicating the Venezuelan government threatened the governments of Aruba, the Netherlands, and others" to obtain the release of former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
"This is not the way law enforcement matters should be handled."
The State Department would not immediately elaborate on the nature of the threats. Calls and e-mails seeking comment from officials in Venezuela and Aruba went unanswered.
Carvajal returned to a hero's welcome in Venezuela late Sunday after he was freed from custody in Aruba, a Dutch Caribbean territory 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela.
He was shuttled to the national convention of the ruling socialist party, where a cheering crowd gave him a standing ovation. President Nicolas Maduro threw his arm around the diminutive Carvajal and the two raised their arms in a gesture of triumph.
"We rescued him," Maduro said, calling Carvajal's return a "great satisfaction."
Aruban authorities had acted on a request from U.S. prosecutors when they arrested Carvajal last week. He had been expected to become his nation's consul. Venezuela protested the detention, citing diplomatic immunity, but an Aruba judge on Friday determined Carvajal had yet to be accredited and ordered that he be held pending extradition to the United States.
Venezuela responded by suspending all flights to and from the popular tourist destination as well as nearby Dutch Caribbean territories, stranding several hundred passengers. After several hours of negotiations between the two governments, flights were allowed to resume Saturday.
The flight ban was seen as a show of power over Aruba's tourist economy. Venezuela is its second-largest tourism market behind the United States.
At a Sunday evening news conference, Aruban officials stressed that the decision to free Carvajal from detention was made by the foreign minister of the Netherlands, which manages the foreign affairs of its former colony off the coast of Venezuela.
U.S. authorities have alleged that Carvajal is one of several high-ranking Venezuelan military and law enforcement officials who provided haven to drug traffickers from neighboring Colombia and helped them move U.S.-bound cocaine through Venezuela.
Psaki said the general's detention in Aruba was the result of "a legitimate request ... in conformity with our treaty which governs extraditions between the United States, the Netherlands, and Aruba."
She said Washington was "deeply disappointed" by Carvajal's release and would continue to pursue him.
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