Friday, September 20, 2013

U.S. 'Denies Airspace' to Venezuelan President on China Visit

The Venezuelan government has accused the United States government of an act of “aggresion” after the U.S. allegedly refused to allow his plane to fly over Puerto Rico on the way to an official visit to China. Venezuela also claims that the U.S. refused a visa to General Wilmer Barrientos, the president’s chief of staff, ahead of a UN General Assembly in New York.

In a televised address yesterday, President Nicolas Maduro said that the U.S. had made a “grave mistake” in denying him permission to fly through “airspace which they colonized, like in Puerto Rico.” He also said that the U.S. government had placed “conditions” on granting visas to all members of his delegation to the UN General Assembly. Maduro did not go into detail about why Barrientos’ visa was denied, only saying “they don't want to give a visa to my minister.”

The AP reports that no U.S. diplomatic officials were available to comment on the claims. But if Barrientos was in fact barred from obtaining his visa, it would not be the first time that the U.S. kept high level foreign officials from visiting the UN. As Foreign Policy noted back in 2011, the U.S. frequently denies visas to diplomatic figures suspected of engaging in activities deemed threatening to national security. The government has charged a number of high level military officials in Venezuela of facilitating drug and arms trafficking by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), even adding four top military officers to the so-called “kingpin list.” While Barrientos is not among these, the denial of his visa could be meant to implicate him in such illicit dealings.

On the other hand, this could be simple diplomatic jockeying. The U.S., after all, has a history of purposefully failing to process visas applications for diplomats on time. A 2009 State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks, for instance, shows that U.S. officials deliberately waited until after a UN meeting was over to inform a member of the Iranian Foreign Ministry that his application had been denied.

As for the airspace allegations, the immediate inconvenience to Maduro’s travel plans appears to have been resolved. According to Noticias24, the administration was forced to take a different, longer flight plan to avoid U.S. airspace, and El Universal reports that the president is on his way to Beijing this morning.

However, the incident has the potential to escalate. Reuters notes that it is “reminiscent” of the episode earlier this year in which several European nations denied their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales, which generated a strong diplomatic backlash from over regional governments. The Bolivian president has strongly criticized the U.S. over Maduro’s allegations, and has announced that he will request that an emergency meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to discuss the matter.

News Briefs
  • Peru’s El Comercio reports that former President Alberto Fujimori, who is imprisoned on charges of corruption and human rights abuses, will begin publishing extracts from a forthcoming autobiography via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, through accounts managed by supporters. The news was announced with a handwritten and illustrated letter posted on Twitter. The BBC notes that announcement has stirred controversy in the country, with Justice Minister Daniel Figallo reacting particularly harshly. "People who commit violations and have their liberty taken from them have their rights limited,” Figallo told reporters. “Otherwise, we turn prisons into hotels.”
  • The news also comes as the jailed ex-president is seeking to alter the terms of his imprisonment. While Fujimori’s recent request for an official pardon from President Ollanta Humala on health grounds was rejected in June, Fujimori’s legal team is seeking to allow him to serve out his sentence under house arrest. Last week, La Republica reported that a judge has accepted the request for consideration, a development which has been vocally criticized by human rights groups. Carlos Rivera, of the civil rights group Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL), was especially critical of the move, telling the paper: "No provision in our legal system establishes the possibility that a person sentenced to imprisonment can effectively serve the sentence at home, so the request must be dismissed out of hand.”
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Mexico today to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto to discuss the economic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. The Hill notes that this is Biden’s third official trip to Mexico, and is part of the launch of the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue, meant to improve economic ties. The L.A. Times’ World News Now blog notes that, unlike Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Brazil, NSA surveillance will not be on the agenda.  Writing for The Guardian, John Ackerman has a polemical take on the visit, arguing that “the widespread image of Peña Nieto as a bold reformist struggling against the forces of nostalgic reaction is about as accurate as Vladimir Putin's presentation of Bashar al-Assad as a distinguished statesman.”
  • Mexican officials say the death toll from massive floods and landslides resulting from Tropical Storm Manuel has risen to 97 across nine states, and thousands have been left stranded or homeless.
  • The latest round of peace talks -- the 14th, to be precise -- between FARC rebels and the Colombian government has come to an end, with no progress to show once again, Semana reports.
  • In a wide-ranging interview with Spain’s El Pais, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera offers a candid assessment of his presidency. Acknowledging that he has had the lowest popularity ratings for any president since Chile’s return to democracy, Piñera attributes this to his commitment to unpopular pro-market reforms. He also claims that Latin America “has always been center-left,” a claim which many analysts have criticized as inaccurate and ahistorical.
  • El Mostrador reports that Chilean Senator Isabel Allende Bussi, the daughter of ousted President Salvador Allende, has called on the government to shift former officials imprisoned for human rights crimes to regular jails instead of the relatively comfortable detainment facilities they are currently housed in. The AP notes that President Piñera has said he is considering closing the special prisons.
  • In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes told the news agency that he is in favor of rejoining the Mercosur trade bloc, despite his initial reluctance due to the recent inclusion of Venezuela. When pressed for a timetable on Paraguay’s readmission, the  president avoided specifics but said he expected it to take place “very early in 2014."
  • The BBC profiles the case of 43-year-old bricklayer Amarildo Gomes da Silva, whose disappearance in July after being stopped by police officers in Rio de Janeiro has sparked a debate about abuses by Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) in the city. While officials say there is no proof that UPPs were involved in Amarildo’s disappearance, locals are skeptical, in part because of the city’s shoddy record of looking into disappearances.
  • The New York Times takes a look at urban life in Caracas, describing the way street corners there are known more commonly by their colorful names like “Danger,” “Eternity,” and “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” rather than their intersecting roads. 

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