Shadow Government

Dozing U.S. Diplomats Let Venezuelan Narco-General Slip Away

Although a retired Venezuelan general and confidante of President Nicolás Maduro just managed to evade U.S. extradition to face drug smuggling charges, the unsealed indictment in his case reveals that U.S. prosecutors have gathered compelling evidence of widespread criminality at the highest levels of the Maduro government. Dozing U.S. diplomats let Major General Hugo Carvajal slip away this past weekend, but the fact that Caracas pulled out the stops to keep him from facing U.S. justice has exposed a regime with a very guilty conscience.

U.S. diplomats were caught off-guard on Sunday when the Netherlands decided to recognize the dubious claims of "diplomatic immunity" by Carvajal, who was being held in Aruba since his arrest last Wednesday at the request of U.S. law enforcement authorities. In court proceedings last Friday, Aruban authorities dismissed Carvajal's claims of immunity, arguing that he had never been accredited as Venezuela's consul general on the island.

After the Dutch government reversed this position after entreaties by the Venezuelan government, Aruba released Carvajal and declared him persona non grata. He returned early Sunday evening to a hero's welcome in Caracas, received by First Lady Cilia Flores.

After Carvajal's release on Sunday, Aruban and U.S. authorities told the Miami Herald and the New York Times that the Venezuelan government threatened economic reprisals and rattled sabers to prevent him from ending up in U.S. custody.

For the time being, U.S. prosecutors will have to wait for a public trial to present the damning evidence they are gathering against numerous Venezuelan officials. According to a 2013 U.S. indictment in the U.S. Southern District of Florida that was unsealed after the arrest, Carvajal "and other high-ranking Venezuelan law enforcement and military officials" helped Colombia's Cartel del Norte del Valle (NVC), which traffics "thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela to countries such as Mexico," bound for the United States. The indictment alleges that Carvajal actually sold cocaine to an NVC trafficker, allowed the NVC to export drugs and import cash, helped the cartel operatives evade capture, provided information on Venezuelan law enforcement activities, and invested in cocaine shipments.

Carvajal's alleged support for the Colombian narcoguerrillas known as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) is notorious. The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted him in 2008 for having "armed, abetted, and funded the FARC." Along with Carvajal, Treasury also implicated Henry Rangel Silva, former Venezuelan minister of defense and current governor of Trujillo state, and Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, former minister of interior and justice and current governor of Guárico state.

Carvajal's purported diplomatic assignment to Aruba is evidence that the Venezuelan government is systematically abetting his illegal activities. Morever, Maduro's personal involvement in agitating for Carvajal's release implicates the presidency in a brazen coverup. According to regime sources, Carvajal's real value to Maduro is the knife he wields in the bitter power struggle being waged within the ruling party.

The Carvajal affair is the second time that U.S. diplomats failed to obtain the release of a Venezuelan wanted on narcotrafficking charges involving government officials. In 2011, Colombia returned alleged cocaine smuggler Walid Makled to Venezuela rather than honor a U.S. extradition request.

It remains to be seen if U.S. diplomats who have been downplaying Venezuelan corruption for the better part of a decade will finally acknowledge that a narcostate weilds power in Caracas. U.S. diplomacy should seek to expose Venezuela's dangerous, illegal role in abetting narcotrafficking in Colombia, Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, the United States and beyond. U.S. prosecutors could help in this regard by unsealing any other indictments that they have prepared against Maduro or other Venezuelan officials.

Roger Noriega former senior State Department official and Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


Shadow Government

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Isn't Going to Happen Anytime Soon

Whatever shortcomings it may have, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement should not have problems with self-esteem. When former Secretary of State James Baker last month listed seven keys to restoring U.S. leadership in the world, the TPP came in at number four. For Japan, the TPP sits atop the list of structural reform measures for Abenomics' so-called "third arrow." But when will the TPP transform from an idealized vision to an actual, concluded trade agreement?

Fans have been waiting for quite a while. The United States joined the talks almost six years ago, at the very end of the Bush presidency. There were high hopes in late 2011, when the United States hosted the annual APEC leaders summit in Hawaii. Trade mavens anticipated a breakthrough this spring, first at a Singapore ministerial and then again when President Obama visited Tokyo to talk trade. At each stage, negotiators have emitted frameworks, landing zones, targets and understandings -- everything short of an actual trade agreement.

Last month, after a meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Obama said: "Our hope is by the time we see each other again in November, when I travel to Asia, we should have something that we have consulted with Congress about, that the public can take a look at, and we can make a forceful argument to go ahead and close the deal." That was not exactly an ironclad promise of a November conclusion, but it was widely interpreted as a potential due date.

Of course, it's totally unrealistic.

There are a number of factors one might look at to determine when the TPP might conclude. One could delve into the issues: What will the United States accept on intellectual property protection? What will Japan accept on its five sacred agricultural products? What will Malaysia accept on state-owned enterprises? What will Canada accept on dairy products? All worthwhile analyses for another day. Instead, we can look at whether and when the United States might have the necessary legislative prerequisite for an agreement: trade promotion authority (TPA).

First question: Is TPA really a prerequisite? The U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) gives Congress the power to "regulate Commerce with foreign Nations." But this just means that Congress must ultimately pass the agreement. What is to prevent the administration from negotiating a package, submitting it, and having Congress approve? Nothing, except that an unprotected trade agreement would be like any other administration suggestion to the Hill; it could be tabled, it could be ignored, or it could be amended in critical ways. These prospects trouble U.S trading partners. Prime Minister Abe does not want to commit to opening the Japanese market to U.S. beef, only to discover that promised U.S. reciprocity was amended away on the Senate floor. TPA combines negotiating instructions with a promise from Congress that any agreement that meets those instructions will receive a timely vote without amendments.

Some trade officials have flirted with the idea that TPP could precede TPA. Perhaps if Congress could see how much an actual agreement had to offer, the thinking went, it would be more willing to offer up retroactive negotiating authority. If this idea was ever plausible, it went out the window last week. The Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee (which oversees trade) wrote a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. It began: "We are strong supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations." It proceeded to address the requisite ordering of TPA and TPP: "we will not support TPP if the agreement, even an agreement in principle, is completed before TPA is enacted." Given that vote counters had previously wondered whether Democrats could muster even 50 pro-trade votes in the House, such opposition should be seen as dispositive. Congress is declaring that negotiating instructions should precede negotiations.

This, at least, simplifies the analysis. The question becomes when we might expect TPA. Obama missed an enormous opportunity in the beginning of the year when he failed to embrace the Camp-Baucus-Hatch bipartisan compromise TPA bill. In short order, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared that TPA should not come up in the Senate before the midterm elections. This led to a general consensus that nothing would move before November. But what happens then? We can divide our analysis into the two possible outcomes of the November elections: Democrats hold the Senate or Republicans take the Senate.

If Democrats hold the Senate, a key question will be whether the once and future majority leader was sincere in his opposition to TPA. He has not been a trade agreement enthusiast, but positions have been known to soften when elections no longer loom. This is the "all will be well in the lame duck" scenario. There are three problems:

1. Elections will still loom. Only this time they will be the 2016 presidential elections. The pressures in the Democratic Party that push against TPA are unlikely to subside. See AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka's remarks from March. He derides the "Baucus fast track bill" and NAFTA-style trade agreements. He says, "In TPP and in the talks with the EU we see again the old NAFTA template, but with a new, aggressive corporate twist." He is not explicitly rejecting the TPP; he's just pushing for a version that would be unrecognizable to our negotiating partners.

2. A Democratic Senate will still likely be paired with a Republican House. The Camp-Baucus-Hatch compromise was exactly that. Sen. Baucus' replacement as Finance Committee chair, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), has been working to accommodate the concerns of Democrats. It is a daunting challenge to do so without losing the votes of Republicans.

3. We've seen this before. After the 2008 election campaign, in which then-Sen. Obama and Democrats opposed trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia, there was much hope that the agreements would slip through in the lame duck when the politicking had subsided. They ended up passing in 2011.

What if Republicans take the Senate? The odds of a lame duck TPA bill would seem to drop to near zero. Why would Republicans strike a compromise if they are about to control both houses? It is very likely that Republicans would back a TPA bill in early 2015, but what would it look like? Republicans feel as though they got the short end of some prevailing compromises about the substance of trade agreements. A May 10, 2007 deal that addressed Democratic concerns about labor, environmental, and intellectual property issues was expected to offer Republicans quick votes on the four free trade agreements then pending. Instead, Republicans only got a vote on Peru.

Would Republicans be pragmatic and stick with the rough understandings from that time? Or would you see a principled push to rethink the way trade policy ought to address such contentious issues as labor standards, regulation, and permissible subsidies? In a revamp scenario, the Obama administration could find itself with negotiating instructions that look distinctly different from the stances it has taken with its 11 TPP negotiating partners to date. A key legislative hurdle would be cleared, but apparent negotiating progress could be lost.

So when should we expect the TPP? No time soon.

Junko Kimura-Matsumoto/AFP/Getty Images