Valdosta Daily Times

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September 20, 2013

Venezuela: U.S. banned presidential overflight

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela complained Thursday that Washington had barred President Nicolas Maduro from flying through U.S. airspace and prohibited a general from later accompanying him to the United Nations.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said prohibiting the flight scheduled to pass over Puerto Rico on Friday as Maduro headed to China amounted to an “aggression.”

Maduro later complained about the airspace issue and said the United States had refused to grant a visa to Gen. Wilmer Barrientos, his chief of staff.

He said he was going to China in a Cuban plane to “strengthen relations with the great power of the 21st Century!”

He did not say whether the U.S. had explained either action. U.S. Embassy officials in Caracas did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

Jaua said Venezuela reserved “the right to take whatever measures we have to if the government of the United States, and its aviation authorities, don’t rectify this latest abuse.”

Allied leftist President Evo Morales of Bolivia, whose plane was forced down in Austria in July after leaving Moscow, presumably because U.S. intelligence leader Edward Snowden was suspected to have been aboard, also reacted angrily.

He said without offering further details that the United States should prepare to face “international legal action for crimes against humanity.”

Venezuela and Bolivia have had strained relations with the U.S. recent years.

Washington has been without an ambassador in Venezuela since 2010 and Morales kicked out the U.S. ambassador and the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008, accusing them of inciting the opposition.

Maduro, the hand-picked successor of the late Hugo Chavez, has repeatedly accused the United States of conspiring to overthrow his government, although without substantiating the claims.

He narrowly won the presidency in April in elections the opposition claims were stolen through fraud and he presides over a government that human rights and press freedom groups say is among the most repressive in the Western Hemisphere.

Maduro’s Venezuela is a staunch supporter of Syria and an ally as well of Russia and Iran. China has in recent years become a close commercial associate.

The United States also considers Venezuela a major drug-transiting country, where cocaine originating in Colombia heads north toward the United States and east to Africa and Europe.

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