Chile calls for the extradition of Venezuelans after dissident’s murder

Chilean Interior Minister Carolina Toha said all ‘eyes’ are on Venezuela to act in the pursuit of justice.

A Venezuelan flag is draped over a coffin.
The family of Venezuelan dissident Ronald Ojeda attend his funeral in Santiago, Chile, on March 8 [File: Esteban Felix/AP Photo]

Chile has announced plans to seek the extradition of two Venezuelans it considers suspects in the grisly murder of a political dissident.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Chilean Interior Minister Carolina Toha called on her Venezuelan counterparts to be partners in her country’s pursuit of justice.

“What happened in this crime is important for Chile,” she said. “We give it the highest gravity, but also it is important for Venezuela.”

She said there will be “eyes” on Venezuela’s behaviour in the matter. “The willingness to collaborate in this investigation has to be demonstrated in facts — firstly, by discovering those responsible, and secondly, by making it easier for them to face justice.”

Toha’s statement comes as part of an investigation into the killing of 32-year-old Ronald Ojeda, a Venezuelan dissident and former military lieutenant.

Ojeda had been imprisoned in Venezuela for alleged treason. In 2017, he escaped to Chile, where he sought and was granted asylum.

From abroad, Ojeda continued to vocally criticise the government of President Nicolás Maduro, whose administration is accused of human rights abuses and the suppression of dissent.

But early on the morning of February 21, surveillance footage showed three men disguised as Chilean police kidnapping Ojeda from his apartment. His body was later discovered on March 1 stuffed in a suitcase, buried under lime powder and cement in a Santiago suburb.

Chilean police afterwards arrested a 17-year-old Venezuelan suspect, allegedly linked to the Tren de Aragua, Venezuela’s largest criminal network. Officials have said two additional suspects escaped to Venezuela.

Chilean authorities suggested on Friday that the murder was politically motivated and coordinated from Venezuela itself.

“We are talking about a victim who has participated in actions against the Venezuelan government, and secondly, he has been detained for nine months in Venezuela. He escaped and has political asylum in Chile,” said Hector Barros, a prosecutor for Santiago’s organised crime and homicide team.

“Given the profile he has, there is no other line of investigation.”

But earlier this week, Venezuela disputed the continued existence of the Tren de Aragua criminal group, with Foreign Minister Yvan Gil calling it “a fiction created by the international media”.

That prompted an outcry from the Chilean government. “It is an insult to the people of Chile and Latin America,” Toha said on Monday, referencing violent incidents credited to the group across the region.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric also announced on Thursday that he would recall his administration’s ambassador to Venezuela in response.

“The irresponsible statements from the chancellor of Venezuela, ignoring the existence of the Tren de Aragua, are worrying and constitute a serious insult to those who have been victims of this organisation and also demonstrate a lack of commitment to necessary international cooperation in matters of security,” Boric wrote on social media.

Venezuela has yet to respond to Chile’s most recent extradition requests. It has denied responsibility for Ojeda’s murder.

Maduro is seeking a third term in the upcoming presidential elections, set for July 28.

But the race has been marred by accusations that his government has attempted to intimidate and derail the opposition, including through detentions, arrest warrants and bans from holding public office.

Speaking on Friday, Toha, the Chilean interior minister, emphasised the need to cooperate on matters of justice.

“A case like this, with the implications it has, must have at its centre that justice is done, that the truth is found, that those responsible are discovered, and that they face sentences that correspond to [their crimes],” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies