Venezuelan Interior Minister Tareck el Aissami announced Sunday the capture of Colombian drug trafficker and militia member Diego Perez Henao alias "Diego Rastrojo" in one of the "most significant (anti-drug operations) in Venezuelan history."
"This morning we achieved the ... capture of ... Diego Perez Henao ... an important Colombian drug trafficker and militia member and, in addition, the head of the 'Los Rastrojos' criminal band," said the minister on state-run television.
El Aissami said that the arrest came early Sunday morning in the municipality of Rojas in the southwestern state of Barinas and was accomplished with the support of Colombian authorities in an operation coordinated by Venezuela's National Anti-drug Office, or ONA.
He also said that law enforcement authorities transported Perez to Caracas where he is being held "under strict security measures."
"We're already communicating at this time with Colombian authorities to transmit to them this relevant information and immediately place (him) at the disposal of the Colombian judiciary," said the minister.
El Aissami noted that Perez has been wanted by Colombian law enforcement authorities since 2001 for his wide-ranging criminal activities, which include "hundreds of victims, disappearances, murders and acts of extortion."
He went on to say that Perez is third in the Los Restrojos hierarchy and is "one of the main heads" of the so-called Bacrim (criminal bands) supported by the Calle Serna brothers.
The minister said that Perez directed "important (drug trafficking) operations" in some areas of Cauca and Nariño provinces in southwestern Colombia where he also worked "with militia groups."
"One of the most wanted men in Latin America has been captured. He's not just anyone," said the Venezuelan.
Three other people were captured along with Perez and El Aissami said that Venezuelan authorities were working to identify them, but he provided no further details on that subject.
On his Twitter account, Communications Minister Andres Izarra said that "police authorities are investigating circumstantial evidence linking 'Diego Rastrojo' with elements of the Venezuelan opposition," adding that authorities will provide "more information in the coming days."
"Who protected Diego Rastrojo in (Venezuela)? What links did he have with destabilization plans denounced by the (Venezuelan government)?" the minister tweeted via his account @Izarradeverdad.
El Aissami went on to emphasize the "commitment" of President Hugo Chavez's government to "this great battle to liberate our territory from criminal organizations (engaging in) drug trafficking and transnational organized crime."
In January 2011, El Aissami and Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera signed in Venezuela the Agreement on Cooperation in the Fight against Drug Trafficking, a result of two months of bilateral negotiations and arrived at within the framework of the good mutual relations the two countries have enjoyed since Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos came to power.
Chavez had broken relations with Colombia the previous July after Colombia's then-president, Alvaro Uribe, charged that Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas had set up camps across the border in Venezuela. Diplomatic relations were resumed, however, when Santos succeeded Uribe. EFE