Visit Aruba with $20,000 in your pocket

Last week a man arrived in Aruba carrying $20,000, six cell phones, and three passports. He was traveling in a Citation jet leased to a company called Tradequip, based in Houston, which in turn had been rented to PDVSA, Venezuela´s state oil company. That guy must have been wearing cargo pants with lots of pockets, like the ones used by the military to carry ammo. 

"Free Knight" military style cargo pants
 with lots of pockets for ammo (or cell phones)

I kept thinking about the paranoia I  would suffer if I had to  travel to Aruba with SIX cell phones and $20 thousand bucks on my body….I also wondered,  what does this guy do when he goes to the beach, put the cell phones and the $20000 in the hotel safe? Or carry all of it in a beach bag and just stand there and stare at the water?

On the beach (photo from ozbock) 

But then I kept on reading, and found out this guy was Hugo Carvajal,  former head of Venezuela´s  Department of Military Inteligence (DIM), a close Chávez ally, and had been nominated to be Venezuela´s consul in Aruba. What made his trip hit the press was his arrest upon arrival by the local authorities, using  a warrant issued by the US government.

Roberto “Pollo” Carvajal having his photograph 
taken in Aruba (from Maduradas)

As it turns out, Hugo Carvajal was wanted by the US since 2008, when he was accused of aiding drug traffic and terrorism. There has been a lot of coverage in the Spanish media and blogosphere about the Carvajal arrest, because for many years he has been said to have been the protector and enabler of  large drug smuggling rings which transfer drugs from Colombia to Europe and the USA via Venezuela.

The Venezuelan government went ballistic when Carvajal was arrested, and the next day they announced all flights between Netherland Antilles and Venezuelan were suspended. This caused all sorts of panic, because international airlines have cut most flights to Venezuela due lack of payment by the Venezuelan government of a $4 billion USD debt. This means many Venezuelans take small planes and boats to Aruba and then fly on to other destinations, and return the same way. The hassle was enormous, and eventually the government rescinded the suspension order, because as it turns out many travelers are chavistas connected to the government, and they were incredibly pissed off.

So what else did I find out? One of Carvajal´s cell phones was a special encrypted model used by high level Venezuelan officials. Another was assigned to him by the Venezuelan military. And only one of them was private and registered in his name. The rumor mill says those phones were immediately taken by the DEA and CIA agents on site to be decrypted and analyzed, and this gave the US government a wealth of data about how the drug mafias work in Venezuela and Colombia.

I also found out the company which rents the plane to PDVSA, Tradequip, does a lot of business in Venezuela. Although they are nominally an oil field equipment trader, it seems they are making a bundle doing all sorts of non oil field related business with PDVSA (for example, leasing private jets venezuelan government officials use when they travel). 

The firm is run by normal guys, the kind of people we see in Houston playing charity golf tournaments and living normal lives, guys like this:

Tradequip employees, regular guys,  
posing at golf tournament in Houston

Another interesting fact is that Tradequip´s main owner is said to be Roberto Rincón, a Venezuelan businessman who  sponsors basketball tournaments and leads a very normal life…

Roberto Rincon posing with basket ball 
(is he the real hero?)

The only interesting  thing about Roberto is his business ties with PDVSA, and the way the plane he leased was used to carry Carvajal to the trap the USA and the Dutch had set up for him in Aruba. Was Carvajal set up by Roberto Rincon? Or was the set up way higher, was this done by the Venezuelan government?  Was this done to copy the information in the six cell phones he carried, or is this the beginning of the end of the Chavez mafia? 

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