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Furor over Venezuelan President's right to travel over US airspace

Published:Sunday | September 22, 2013 | 11:57 AM

MIAMI, Sept.22, CMC – Bolivian President Evo Morales has called for an emergency meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in the wake of a furor over the United States’ denial then reversal of permission for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to travel over US airspace in the Caribbean.

Calixto Ortega, the highest-ranking Venezuelan diplomat in the United States, said here on Friday the US State Department had denied Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro the right to travel through US airspace in Puerto Rico on his way to China before reversing the decision.

Ortega told reporters that US authorities had initially denied Maduro’s aircraft the right to cross Puerto Rican airspace, according to the Miami Herald.

He said the same Cubana de Aviación airplane, with the same crew and Maduro on board, had flown over Puerto Rico on a previous occasion, adding that he was “surprised” by the US denial on Thursday.

Before embarking on a four-day trip to China – his first as president – Maduro charged that the United States forced him to change his travel plans by denying him permission to fly through Puerto Rican airspace.

“To deny a head of state to travel through the airspace of Puerto Rico – a territory that they colonized – is a serious error,” he said in a statement, describing the incident as an act of aggression. Maduro also accused Washington of denying visas to some of the delegates expected to travel with him to the United Nations General Assembly this week.

Morales accused the United States of carrying out a policy of intimidation, adding that he plans to file a lawsuit in an international court charging US President Barack Obama with crimes against humanity.

But US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said the Venezuelan President’s request in the latest incident was “properly submitted.”

“US authorities made an extraordinary effort to work with relevant authorities to grant over flight approval in a matter of hours,” she said in a statement. “As a result, we were able to notify the Venezuelan authorities that permission was granted.”

Harf said Venezuela had requested the diplomatic clearance with one-day advance notice, rather than the three days usually required. Additionally, she said the plane was not a state aircraft, which is required for diplomatic clearance.

Roberta S. Jacobson, the United States assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also said the incident is being blown out of proportion, adding that Washington had worked with Venezuelan officials to get the approval done quickly.


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