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Minister: Flights between Aruba, Venezuela resume

ORANJESTAD, Aruba – Flights between Venezuela and Aruba resumed Saturday, ending a brief suspension by the South American country to protest the arrest of its designated counsel to the island territory, the highest-ranking Venezuelan official ever detained on a U.S. warrant.

The lifting of the flight ban followed several hours of talks between Aruba Justice Minister Arthur Dowers and a representative of Venezuela’s foreign affairs ministry, Dowers told The Associated Press.

The suspension of flights to and from Aruba and other Dutch Caribbean territories came Friday afternoon after an Aruban judge ruled that Hugo Carvajal, the former head of Venezuelan military intelligence, must remain behind bars pending a U.S. extradition request on drug-trafficking charges. The order stranded about 500 travelers on the island, which is a popular tourist destination.

“We understand the Venezuelan government is upset with the detention of one of their diplomatic corps members, but I told them that based on basic human rights, it cannot be so that the movement of many more of their citizens and their right to go home will be sacrificed,” Dowers said.

Three airlines serving major Venezuelan cities confirmed flights resumed Saturday morning. It was unclear how many flights had been affected.

The flight ban was considered an economic blow to Aruba since Venezuela, just 15 miles (24 kilometers) away, represents its second-largest tourism market behind the United States.

Carvajal was arrested Thursday as he arrived in Aruba to take office as Venezuela’s consul to the island. Venezuela protested the detention, citing diplomatic immunity, but Aruban authorities said the arrest came before he was accredited.

Dowers said Aruba complied with a request from U.S. authorities to arrest Carvajal based on a treaty signed between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United States.

He said he is aware that the Venezuelan government is still upset about the ruling and that it could reinstate the flight ban or take other punitive actions. He did not specify what those actions might be.

Aruba government officials scheduled an emergency meeting Saturday to talk about the issue.

U.S. authorities have alleged that Carvajal is one of several high-ranking Venezuelan military and law enforcement officials who provided a haven to major drug traffickers from neighboring Colombia and helped them export large amounts of U.S.-bound cocaine through Venezuela.

His surprise arrest has cast a spotlight on what’s known in Venezuela as the “Cartel of the Suns,” referring to rogue, high-ranking military officers believed to have grown rich from drug-running. Top Venezuelan officers wear sun insignia on their uniforms.

Together with the unsealing Thursday of a drug indictment against two other Venezuelan officials, Carvajal’s arrest will likely also ratchet up tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela’s socialist government, which frequently accuses Washington of conspiring against it.

President Nicolas Maduro had threatened to retaliate against Aruba, unless Carvajal is freed. The president likened Carvajal’s arrest to an “ambush” and “kidnapping” that violates international law and Venezuelan sovereignty.

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Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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