Venezuela Touts Anti-drug Effort, Deports Suspects

Published January 24, 2012 10:27PM (EST)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela on Tuesday deported three suspected drug smugglers wanted in the United States, Canada and Colombia, touting the moves as proof the government of President Hugo Chavez is making strides in fighting trafficking.

Those deported include Luc Letourneau, a Canadian wanted in his homeland on drug trafficking charges, Oscar Martinez Hernandez, an American wanted in Puerto Rico on charges including cocaine and heroin smuggling, and Colombian Adalberto Bernal Arboleda.

Arboleda, known by his nickname "El Cali," faces drug smuggling charges in Colombia and the United States.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami trumpeted the deportations as evidence Venezuela is cracking down on drug trafficking.

Venezuela is a major hub for gangs that smuggle Colombian cocaine to the United States and Europe, and U.S. officials have accused Chavez's government of being lax in anti-drug efforts.

Last year, President Barack Obama's administration classified Venezuela as a country that has "failed demonstrably" to effectively fight drug trafficking.

El Aissami dismissed that accusation, accusing U.S. officials of "defaming" Venezuela's counter-drug efforts.

Letourneau, 53, was captured in May on Margarita Island, a popular tourist destination. At the time of his arrest, Letourneau was planning to smuggle 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of cocaine into Canada, El Aissami said.

Hernandez, a 44-year-old man who was nabbed by police on Jan. 4 in the western city of Maracaibo, faces numerous criminal charges ranging from drug trafficking to illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Arboleda was captured in the town of Mariara, in central Carabobo state, on Jan. 11.

U.S.-Venezuelan counter-drug cooperation has been sharply scaled back since 2005, when Chavez suspended cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and accused it of being a front for espionage.

By Salon Staff

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