ORANJESTAD, Aruba (AP) – Flights between Aruba and Venezuela have resumed after the South American country suspended them to protest the arrest of its designated counsel to the island territory, the highest-ranking Venezuelan official ever detained on a U.S. warrant, officials said Saturday.
Aruba Justice Minister Arthur Dowers told The Associated Press he met for several hours with Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Federico Gonzalez to discuss the suspension, which was ordered on Friday. Dowers said he expressed concern about the hundreds of travelers who would be stranded.
"We understand the Venezuelan government is upset with the detention of one of their diplomatic core members, but I told them that based on basic human rights, it cannot be so that the movement of many more of their citizens and their right to go home will be sacrificed," he said.
Venezuela issued the order to suspend flights to Aruba and other Dutch Caribbean territories after an Aruban judge ruled that Hugo Carvajal, the former head of Venezuelan military intelligence, must remain behind bars pending a U.S. extradition request on drug-trafficking charges.
Carvajal, who was arrested Thursday upon arriving in Aruba, had been named Venezuela's consul to the island and was awaiting accreditation.
Dowers said Aruba had complied with a request from U.S. authorities to arrest Carvajal based on a treaty signed between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United States.
The flight ban was considered an economic blow to Aruba since Venezuela represents its second-largest tourism market. It is unclear how many flights were canceled. Airport authorities in Aruba could not immediately be reached for comment. The ban was lifted roughly around midnight.
Hundreds of Venezuelan tourists were stranded in Aruba, which lies just 15 miles (24 kilometers) off Venezuela's coast.
Dowers said he is aware that the Venezuelan government is still upset about the ruling and that it could reinstate the flight ban or take other punitive actions. He did not specify what those actions might be.
Aruba government officials scheduled an emergency meeting late Saturday morning to talk about the issue.
U.S. authorities have alleged that Carvajal is one of several high-ranking Venezuelan military and law enforcement officials who provided a haven to major drug traffickers from neighboring Colombia and helped them export large amounts of U.S.-bound cocaine through Venezuela.
His surprise arrest has cast a spotlight on what's known in Venezuela as the "Cartel of the Suns," referring to rogue, high-ranking military officers believed to have grown rich from drug-running. Top Venezuelan officers wear sun insignia on their uniforms.
Together with the unsealing Thursday of a drug indictment against two other Venezuelan officials, Carvajal's arrest will likely also ratchet up tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela's socialist government, which frequently accuses Washington of conspiring against it.
President Nicolás Maduro had threatened to retaliate against Aruba, unless Carvajal is freed. The president likened Carvajal's arrest to an "ambush" and "kidnapping" that violates international law and Venezuelan sovereignty.