Venezuela deports alleged Colombian cartel boss, other drug suspect to US

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela deported two drug trafficking suspects to the United States on Monday, including an alleged boss of the powerful Norte del Valle cartel in neighboring Colombia. The action came only days after the U.S. criticized Venezuela's cooperation in fighting illegal narcotics.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said U.S. authorities had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Jaime Alberto Marin, a leader of the Norte del Valle cartel also know as "Beto Marin." Another suspected trafficker, Omar Guzman Martinez, was also deported, El Aissami said.

State television broadcast footage of both suspects, who wore handcuffs and bulletproof vests, as they were escorted to a waiting plane by heavily armed, masked police at Simon Bolivar International Airport. Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration put the suspects aboard the plane.

National Guard troops and agents from Venezuela's anti-drug force arrested Marin on Sept. 16 on Margarita Island, a resort off Venezuela's Caribbean coast. Guzman Martinez, who is from the Dominican Republic, was arrested on Aug. 25 in Caracas.

Venezuelan state television reported that Marin took control of the Norte del Valle cartel after Wilber Varela, alias "Jabon," or "Soap," one of Colombia's most-wanted traffickers, was killed in 2008. Marin has been wanted in the U.S. since 2007 on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.

Guzman Martinez is wanted in the U.S. for purportedly shipping cocaine to the United States.

Venezuela has become a major hub for traffickers smuggling Colombian cocaine to the United States and Europe.

U.S. and Colombian officials have accused President Hugo Chavez's government of lax anti-drug efforts, while Chavez insists his government is doing everything possible to stem the flow of drugs through Venezuela.

El Aissami rejected the findings of a White House report released last week that accused Venezuela of failing to cooperate with other countries in fighting drug trafficking.

"We don't accept blackmail or pressure from the empire," he said, referring to the U.S. government.

"The manner in which the U.S. government judges the anti-drug policies of other countries is irresponsible, arbitrary and unilateral," he added.

El Aissami said Venezuela has captured dozens of suspected major drug traffickers in recent years, including 16 so far this year.

In a statement sent to The Associated Press, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas applauded the deportation of Marin and Guzman Martinez.

"We view the arrest and transfer to the United States of two major narco-traffickers, Juan Alberto Marin and Omar Guzman Martinez, by Venezuelan authorities as a valuable and positive development," it said. "These are very dangerous, violent individuals with outstanding warrants in the United States. The Venezuelan police officers who made these arrests demonstrated excellent police work in bringing these two drug traffickers to justice."

The embassy also noted Washington is seeking closer cooperation with Chavez's government.

"While this is a positive step, the United States seeks additional and deeper cooperation with the Venezuelan government," the statement said.

Chavez suspended cooperation with the DEA in 2005, accusing its agents of espionage — an accusation the DEA denied. Two DEA agents still work in Venezuela, but U.S. Embassy officials say their work has been severely restricted.