Venezuelan delegation protests grounding of plane in Argentina

An official Venezuelan delegation protested Thursday to Argentina’s embassy in Caracas against the grounding of a plane and its crew in Buenos Aires since June.

The Boeing 747 cargo plane, owned by Venezuelan company Emtrasur, has been held in Argentina since it arrived on June 8 from Mexico with a shipment of auto parts, after having tried unsuccessfully to enter Uruguay.

Transport Minister Ramon Velasquez and pro-government lawmakers visited the embassy Thursday to protest, as a few dozen workers of state airline Conviasa gathered outside chanting: “Return the plane and crew!”

The delegation was received by ambassador Oscar Laborde.

Back in Argentina, Judge Federico Villena on Thursday granted a request from the United States to seize the plane on the basis that laws were broken when it was sold by Iran to Venezuela — both countries under US sanctions, Telam news agency reported.

Conviasa, which controls Emtrasur, is also sanctioned.

Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro protested the US seizure request, which he said amounted to an attempt to “steal” the plane, and asked Argentina for backing.

The United States’ entry into the fray has given rise to street demonstrations in Venezuela.

– ‘Puppet of imperialism’ –

The Venezuelan delegation handed a document to ambassador Laborde in which it protested the plane’s continued detention.

“We gave the ambassador some communications so that the authorities, the counterparts in Argentina, can sit down and talk about the situation, find the best alternative and the best solution to this problem,” Velasquez said afterwards.

“We hope that the truth prevails, that the Argentine justice system reacts, that it does not take this situation plagued by illegality to new levels,” he said.

The Boeing first entered Argentina on June 6 with a load of auto parts from Mexico.

Unable to refuel in Buenos Aires due to the sanctions, the plane left for Montevideo on June 8. But the Uruguayan authorities refused it access, and it flew back to Argentina.

A judge ordered the plane be detained in light of an investigation into the crew of 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians.

Last week, a judge gave the green light for 12 of the crew members to leave Argentina — minus four Iranians and three Venezuelans. That decision is now being appealed.

Velasquez said the crew members were being investigated for “espionage and terrorism.”

“They have not yet been called to testify, their right to a defense is being violated,” he charged.

The Paraguayan intelligence service has linked one of the Iranian crew members to the Al Quds Force, a group of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards classified as a terrorist organization by the United States. 

But Velasquez said the intelligence report was “biased.”

On Wednesday, Venezuelan lawmaker Pedro Carreno urged Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez to “show if he is a puppet of the empire, if he is a puppet of imperialism or if he really governs that country.”

Argentine presidency spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti said at her weekly briefing Thursday that the outburst “does not imply a diplomatic incident.”