LA uproar as US denies Venezuelan leader air passage

September 22, 2013
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks to media after the US initially denied his plane passage through US air space.

Venezuela has rejected the United States’ version of events in the dispute over Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s passage through US airspace on September 19.

The diplomatic fallout reached media attention when Venezuelan foreign minister Elias Jaua told reporters that Maduro had been denied permission to fly through US airspace.

Venezuelan officials said the presidential flight was prohibited from passing over Puerto Rico, a US colony in the Caribbean. Maduro considered changing the flight path to reach Paris, France.

However after hurried diplomatic talks permission was eventually granted for the flight to pass through US airspace. The flight’s final destination was Beijing, where Maduro was travelling for a state visit.

In a diplomatic statement released on September 20 by the United States Embassy in Caracas, the US denied prohibiting the Venezuelan president’s passage through its airspace. The statement blamed any delays in granting passage on the Venezuelan government for not “properly submitting” the flight request.

The US diplomats further argued that approval was delayed because “the [presidential] plane in question was not a state aircraft, which is required for diplomatic clearance”.

Venezuela’s top diplomat in Washington, Calixto Ortega, rejected the US version of events, affirming in a call to state channel VTV that the US had indeed denied Maduro’s passage through its airspace.

“The permission was denied,” he said. “I have the denial in writing.”

Ortega also disagreed with the arguments put forward for the delay in granting permission to enter US airspace, explaining that the plane, route and flight request were exactly the same as in June when Maduro passed over Puerto Rico en route to Italy.

“It’s the same plane, with the same crew, and exactly the same route made.”

Ortega also criticised press in Europe for favouring the US version of events in the dispute.

Ortega expressed concerns that the US would repeat last night’s action on September 25, when Maduro will travel to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Venezuela has further accused the US of denying visas to members of its delegation to the UN gathering. Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s ambassador to the UN, wrote a letter to UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon on September 20 requesting the UN ensure that the US “strictly fulfills its international obligations”.

In the letter, Moncada accused the US government of “deliberately delaying the approval of entry permits” to members of Maduro’s diplomatic team, and of trying to “create logistical barriers … to his [Maduro’s] visit”.

US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf denied the accusation.

The apparent denial of Maduro’s request to fly through US airspace has generated criticism from Venezuela’s regional allies.

Bolivian president Evo Morales requested an “emergency meeting” of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), saying that he would propose that all members states of the bloc withdraw their ambassadors from the US in protest. CELAC brings together every state in the Western Hemisphere with the exception of the US and Canada.

“If it’s with Maduro, it’s with everyone,” Morales said. “The United States must know that if it messes with Maduro, it messes with the whole Latin American people … because this is about the unity and sovereignty of our peoples.”

Meanwhile, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez called U.S. conduct “unjustifiable, arbitrary and unfriendly, which offends that whole of Latin America and the Caribbean”.

Rodriguez said that CELAC member states were discussing the issue, and would bring it up at the UN General Assembly meeting.

The fallout comes after Morales’ presidential plane was denied airspace access by four European countries in July, under supposed suspicions that the flight harboured ex-NSA intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

Further, this month Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled her scheduled state visit to the US set for October, apparently due to concerns over the US spying activities toward Brazil revealed by Snowden.

Venezuelan relations with the US have remained tense since a failed US-backed coup in 2002. The two countries have not had an exchange of ambassadors since 2010.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

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