Enter Makled, capo du jour

Greetings earthlings!

As we continue working our transition to the new website, we’ll continue posting this week. One of the more interesting stories as of late is the tale of captured fugitive Walid Makled.

Makled and his brother, Abdala, were “businessmen” in the central Venezuelan state of Carabobo. Abdala was an independent candidate for mayor of Valencia in 2008, and got about 6.3% of the vote. Both brothers apparently have extensive links to former Carabobo Governor Luis Felipe Acosta Carles, a one-time chavista military hero (courtesy of his infamous “burp” while confiscating soda during the 2003 oil strike) who was later thrown under the bus by the Revolution.

The Makled brothers have been accused of being drug traffickers of the highest order. The brothers apparently had a large operation in the port of Puerto Cabello, which, in case you’re wondering, is in Carabobo state, is one of our country’s largest ports, and was controlled by the Carabobo state government. They were also part owners of Venezuelan airline Aeropostal.

I don’t generally believe in coincidence, but all of this transportation infrastructure sure comes in handy if you’re in the business of shipping drugs.

Back in 2008, a few days before the regional elections, well after Chávez had broken with Acosta Carles, the Venezuelan government raided one of the Makled brothers’ farms and apparently found large amounts of cocaine, airplanes, and other nifty toys that come in handy if you want to smuggle drugs. The brothers were apparently detained, along with a few members of the Carabobo state police who were guarding the farm, presumably at the behest of then-governor Acosta Carles. At around the same time, the patriarch of the family was kidnapped and later released.

Why the Makled brothers were not in jail is not clear to me, and I can’t find any record of them escaping jail. Regardless, Walid Makled disappeared into thin air, and the government promptly placed him on Interpol’s list of most wanted. They were also charged with murder.

Last August, Makled was captured in Colombia, and here is where things go from interesting to epic.

Makled immediately began talking, saying he kept many prominent chavistas in his payroll, including governors, high-ranking military officers, and even the brother of the current Interior Minister. He also claims to have helped the Chávez campaign for the 2004 Recall Referendum to the tune of $2 million, and that, in gratitude, the government gave him the rights to large portions of Puerto Cabello’s infrastructure, as well as access to the government’s urea business. He also says he has a paper trail proving his claims. In a separate interview, Makled claimed his family and the Interior Minister’s family are related, and that he is a personal friend with the Minister’s brother.

I have to say, I found his gleeful, unabasehd disposition to spill the beans somewhat charming.

Doubtlessly fearing what he knows, Hugo Chávez himself was on the record yesterday explicitly asking Colombia to extradite him to Venezuela. The tricky part is that the Americans want him extradited as well.

Colombian president Santos and Hugo Chávez have been remarkably chummy the last few months, so this begs the question: will the Colombian judiciary extradite him to Venezuela, or to the US?

There’s no doubt that Makled wants to be extradited to the US, as he probably fears the worst if he is brought back to Venezuela. A lawyer for the family is nervously spinning away, denying any links with drug smuggling and political financing, saying the Makleds are a simple Syrian family of businessmen, and that Walid only has a “fifth-grade education.”

Will Santos put relations with Venezuela above anything else? Or will he cow to the US and send him there instead? Given how this is a judicial procedure, does he even have a choice? And how will Hugo Chávez react if Makled is sent to the US?

Frame this as just another amusing page in the mafia war that our country’s politics have become.