Colombia has extradited a Venezuelan former army captain with ties to the administration of President Nicolás Maduro to face drug trafficking charges in the United States, in a move that likely has Venezuela's government worried over what stories he might tell US authorities.
On June 24, Yazenky Lamas was flown to the United States where he will be tried for his alleged role in coordinating over 100 drug flights from Venezuela to Central America and the Caribbean, reported Semana.
Prosecutors allege that Lamas played a central role in organizing drug flights by obtaining air traffic codes that allowed the planes to pass themselves off as commercial flights, among them a flight that travelled from the Venezuela-Colombia border region to Honduras with 1.6 tons of cocaine in 2015, according to Semana.
Lamas, who used to be the personal pilot of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores, according to El Nuevo Herald, was arrested in Colombia in June last year. He claimed to be sourcing pedigree dogs, but Colombian investigators told Semana they believe he was in the country to make contact with the powerful paramilitary mafia known as the Urabeños.
InSight Crime Analysis
Lamas is a figure with political connections that run to the very top of the Venezuelan government, and if he decides to turn informant he could potentially provide devastating information on the Cartel of the Suns -- the term used to describe drug trafficking networks inside Venezuela's military.
There have already been strong indications of concern on the part of the Maduro administration; the Nuevo Herald reported that late last year government envoys pleaded with their Colombian counterparts not to extradite the former military man to the United States.
Such tactics have succeeded previously, most notably in the case of Walid Makled, a now-convicted drug trafficker with high-level state connections, whom the Colombian government extradited to Venezuela instead of the United States in 2011.
SEE ALSO: The Cartel of the Suns Profile
However, the political context is very different now. In 2011, Colombia was keen to improve relations with Venezuela -- which at that time was politically polarized and economically struggling, but far from the collapsing state seen today. Colombia also reportedly had favors to ask in return, namely, the extradition of Colombian guerrillas and the payment of hundreds of millions of dollars of trade debt.
In contrast, the Venezuelan government today is increasingly internationally isolated over its brutal attempts to put down a wave of political protest, and its inability to resolve an economic crisis and rampant corruption. In this context, pressure over the Venezuelan government's alleged collusion in drug trafficking has been steadily building, with US authorities prosecuting cases such as the "narco nephews" case involving the first lady's nephews, and levying a series of sanctions against state actors, including placing Vice President Tareck El Aissami on its "Kingpin List."
Colombia therefore would have little to gain and much to lose by cooperating with a government that is not only approaching pariah status internationally, but -- depending on what Lamas tells US authorities -- could also be on the verge of being exposed as a criminal state.