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Cablegate: Venezuela: American Airlines Crew Detained At

VZCZCXRO6277
PP RUEHAO RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHMT RUEHNG
RUEHNL RUEHQU RUEHRD RUEHRG RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHCV #1390 2751625
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 011625Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1914
INFO RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

C O N F I D E N T I A L CARACAS 001390

SIPDIS

HQ SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
TREASURY FOR MMALLOY
COMMERCE FOR 4431/MAC/WH/MCAMERON
CA FOR CA/OCS/ACS FOR WILLIAM HURST
DS FOR IP/WHA, TIA AND OSAC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/01/2018
TAGS: CASC ASEC MARR PGOV ECON EAIR VE
SUBJECT: VENEZUELA: AMERICAN AIRLINES CREW DETAINED AT
AIRPORT

REF: CARACAS 1293

Classified By: Economic Counselor Darnall Steuart for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).

1. (C) The evening of September 30, American Airlines Country
Manager Omar Nottaro (strictly protect throughout) called
Econoff to report that the captain and crew of American
Airlines flight 903 were being held at the airport. He
explained that upon landing a crew member said "Welcome to
Venezuela. Local Chavez time is" X. (NOTE: In December 2007
Venezuela created its own time zone, moving the clock back
half an hour on a permanent basis. The crew member was
likely trying to remind passengers of this and to suggest
they turn their watches back 30 minutes. END NOTE.)
According to Nottaro, a passenger and friend of Venezuelan
National Assemblyman Carlos Echezuria Rodriguez, thought the
crew member had said "loco Chavez time." Nottaro's report of
what the crew said is contradicted by a copy of the
Venezuelan Immigration (ONIDEX) report obtained by a Consular
Section Interpol contact which states the announcement had
instead been, "the hour of the crazy Chavez and his women".

2. (C) The passenger, Nestor Maldonado Lanza, told Deputy
Rodriguez who was waiting for him outside, that the pilot had
called President Chavez crazy. The Deputy called Venezuelan
Vice President Carrizales to report the incident. The Vice
President called civil aviation authority (INAC) President
Martinez who went to the airport. The Directorate for
Venezuelan Domestic Intelligence and Prevention, DISIP,
opened an investigation. However, because ONIDEX had not
allowed the crew to go through customs, DISIP backed out of
investigation and turned it over to ONIDEX which had
jurisdiction as the crew had not officially entered
Venezuela. The crew then waited inside the airport for the
results of a meeting between airport, ONIDEX, INAC and
American Airlines staff.

3. (C) Nottaro stated Deputy Rodriguez demanded to hear the
on-board recordings of in-flight announcements and wanted
each crew member to give a statement. Nottaro was able to
diffuse the situation by promising to put the crew back on
the empty airplane as soon as it was refueled and get the
captain and crew out of the country immediately. Nottaro
also apologized in person to INAC President Martinez and
committed to writing several letters of apology on October 1.
Venezuelan authorities accepted Nottaro's offer and the crew
left Venezuela at 11:30 pm. American made the decision to
turn the plane around even though it meant canceling AA
flight 902 out of Caracas the morning of October 1, at
considerable cost to the airline.

4. (C) This is the second incident involving U.S. flight
crews at the Caracas airport in the last month. The first
incident on September 13 involved a Delta flight crew
(reftel). It is yet another example of how heightened
sensitivities are in the bilateral relationship when a chance
remark escalates within minutes to the level of the
Venezuelan Vice Presidency.
CAULFIELD

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