Pubdate: Tue, 11 Mar 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Section: A
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Note: Special correspondent Mery Mogollon in Caracas, Venezuela, 
contributed to this report.


Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco, Alias Gordito, Also Faces Money 
Laundering and False Identity Charges, Officials Say.

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Venezuela, Colombia and the United States finally 
appear to agree on something: that drug trafficking suspect 
Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco is a dangerous felon.

Gonzalez, arrested over the weekend in Venezuela by the nation's 
intelligence police force, will be tried in Venezuela on drug 
trafficking, money laundering and false identity charges, Interior 
Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin said at a news conference Monday.

Gonzalez, 48, has been indicted in New Jersey and New York federal 
courts on drug trafficking charges and is wanted in Colombia on 
suspicion of murder. He has been on an Interpol list of wanted 
suspects since 2005.

Gonzalez's importance is underscored by a $5-million reward that the 
U.S. State Department had posted for his capture. The Colombian has 
been identified as the head of the so-called Guajira cartel, named 
for the desolate peninsula that forms Venezuela's northwestern 
boundary. The cartel controls as much as one-third of the 250 tons of 
cocaine that annually passes through Venezuela on the way to U.S. and 
European markets, authorities say.

That passage is said to be facilitated by the so-called Cartel of the 
Sun, a group of corrupt Venezuelan army and police officials named 
for the solar insignia on the uniforms of the Venezuelan national 
guard. Gonzalez's Guajira cartel is said to be closely associated 
with the guard.

Gonzalez, whose 230-pound, 5-foot-5-inch frame earned him the 
nickname "Gordito," or Fatso, was arrested Saturday at his ranch in 
Caja Seca, at the southern end of Lake Maracaibo.

Few details of his arrest have been released, but Venezuelan 
authorities have said he was taken into custody by the nation's 
investigative police force, known as the Directorate of Intelligence 
and Prevention Services.

Attorney Freddy Ferrer Medina, told reporters that his client, when 
arrested, was carrying ID badges from the national guard and 
Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services, and also an 
official permit to bear arms.

The lawyer said that the ID badges were legitimate and that 
Gonzalez's arrest was illegal because there were no outstanding 
charges against him in Zulia state.

Gonzalez long ago moved to Venezuela's western border state of Zulia, 
where he owns ranches and other businesses including pharmacies. 
Arrested with him were 13 of his employees.

He was born in the Guajiran border town of Maicao in Colombia, where 
dealing in contraband is a way of life for many. Gonzalez is believed 
to have turned to crime while serving in the so-called Guajira 
Peasants' Self-Defense paramilitary and to have moved to Venezuela to 
manage the militia's drugs-for-arms trade.

Gonzalez, whose brother was killed in a shootout with police in 
Venezuela in 2004, is described by foreign counter-narcotics 
officials as ruthless.

Among the Bush administration's complaints about Venezuela in recent 
years has been its emergence as a drug-trafficking hub because, 
officials say, its security forces have been infiltrated by Colombian 
narcos such as Gonzalez.

Venezuela could legally extradite Gonzalez to Colombia or the United 
States because he is a Colombian citizen. (Venezuelan law prohibits 
the extradition of its citizens.)

But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ended all cooperation with U.S. 
narcotics officials in 2005, describing them as "spies." He 
reassigned 40 specially vetted Venezuelan anti-drug police officers 
who had been trained in Quantico, Va., to other beats. He did not 
expel U.S. agents but has granted fewer work visas.

Meanwhile, drug traffic has quintupled in Venezuela since 2002, 
according to the former U.S. ambassador there. U.S. officials such as 
White House anti-drug czar John P. Walters have cited Venezuela's lax 
enforcement and corruption as reasons.

According to the U.S. State Department's annual drug report released 
last month, seizures of illegal drugs in Venezuela "dropped 
substantially in 2007 while seizures of drugs coming out of Venezuela 
by other countries, including the U.S. and United Kingdom, rose sharply."

U.S. officials contacted Monday said it was too early to say whether 
Gonzalez's arrest means the Venezuelan government is clamping down 
harder on drug trafficking. "Let's find out more about how and why 
[the arrest] happened first," said one, who asked to remain anonymous.
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