Venezuelan airline Conviasa workers are outside the Argentine embassy demanding the delivery of the Emtrasur plane, which will be held in Caracas in Buenos Aires this Thursday. YURI CORTEZ (AFP)
The Argentine judiciary accepted a request from the United States and this Thursday ordered the confiscation of the plane belonging to the Venezuelan airline Emtrasur, which has been based in Buenos Aires since June 8. The Boeing 747 will now be under the scrutiny of federal judge Federico Villena and his District of Columbia counterpart Michael Harvey, who are investigating an alleged violation of export control laws the White House applies to countries suspected of terrorism. The plane belonged to the airline Mahan Air, which was not allowed to sell it to third parties because it has been under US sanctions since 2008. Even Emtrasur could not buy it without permission. The judicial escalation further fuels diplomatic tensions between Buenos Aires and Caracas, which view the plane’s holding back as a “hijacking” and Argentine President Alberto Fernández as a “puppet of the empire”.
After the court seizure, FBI agents showed up at Ezeiza International Airport on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, inspected the Venezuelan plane and prepared the inventory requested by Judge Harvey. Judge Villena also authorized the US Marshals Service, which is responsible for the transportation of federal prisoners, to coordinate the custody and maintenance of the plane. Argentina and the United States have a mutual judicial cooperation treaty that does not require that the facts under investigation constitute a criminal offense in both jurisdictions at the same time. Therefore, Judge Villena considered the request, which came from Colombia via the Argentine Ministry of Justice, to be “reasonable”.
However, Villena decided to treat it as a separate file from the main case, which is investigating the plane’s 19 crew members – 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians – for alleged links to terrorism. The unfolding of the case leaves Venezuela and the state-owned Conviasa, owner of Emtrasur’s Boeing 747, without avenues of appeal.
The main file must establish whether the destination of some crew members deviates from that communicated in the voyage plan. The plane was carrying car parts for a multinational and the cargo was delivered, but a complaint from the Argentine Israeli Associations (DAIA) delegation drew an eye on the five Iranians on board. His presence worried the South American country’s Jewish community, who have asked for clarification on whether they had ties to some of the suspects in the 1994 attack that destroyed AMIA headquarters in Buenos Aires and left 85 dead.
The retention of Emtrasur’s Boeing 747 has soured bilateral relations between Caracas and Buenos Aires. This Thursday, the Chavismo organized a protest in front of the Argentine embassy in the Venezuelan capital with the call “Give back the plane and the crew”. The case is already part of the propaganda machinery of the main Chavismo media and has repeatedly been the subject of irritated comments by key revolutionary leaders in statements and legal debates. The label #ReturnThePlane is advertised on state television Venezolana de Televisión in a spot accompanied by a vigorous speech by Nicolás Maduro, in which “imperialism” is questioned.
#11August Together with the deputies of the National Assembly and the working class, we submitted a document to the Argentine embassy in Venezuela to request it #ReturnThePlane We will not rest until justice is done for the crew and the plane pic.twitter.com/W66bbUIOJT
– Ramón Celestino Velásquez Araguayan (@rvaraguayan) August 11, 2022
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Venezuelan Transport Minister Ramón Velásquez was present at the concentration of the Argentine embassy in Caracas along with several pro-government MPs and employees of the state airline Conviasa. The Minister was received by Argentina’s Ambassador Oscar Laborde, who has just taken office in Caracas. “We hope that the truth will prevail, that the Argentine judiciary will respond,” Velásquez said.
“Now, based on a decision by a Florida state court, they want to seize an airplane in Argentina,” Maduro previously complained. “In other words, henceforth, a court in Florida or New York decides and can take a ship, plane, or any property from Venezuela or from any country. Isn’t there a sovereign domain? Is there no respect for sovereignty? Is international law not being respected or are the United States courts ruling in Argentina?” the President added.
Caracas’ anger has been growing rapidly in recent days, although there has still been no official statement from the Venezuelan government after the court’s seizure decision was announced. Argentina did not directly respond to the Venezuelan allegations. On Wednesday, during a meeting with journalists at the Foreign Ministry’s headquarters in Buenos Aires, Undersecretary for Latin American Affairs Gustavo Martínez Pandiani told this newspaper that “the question of the plane does not change the connection with Venezuela at all. ” . “It’s a legal matter and the executive doesn’t have much to do. We won’t interfere,” he said. “The connection with Venezuela is normalized, we made the decision to raise the relationship to the level of ambassadors what is said is up to whoever says it,” he added.