Sunday 10 November 2013

Venezuela says Mexican jet was full of cocaine, not people

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua
The story of the private Mexican jet downed in Venezuela on November 4 has become more confused. Mexico has claimed that there were two pilots and five passengers, even releasing their names – though it is believed that the identities may have been false. However, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro now says that there were no passengers, and that the plane was full of cocaine.

Maduro has even gone so far as to express surprise that Mexico is asking for an explanation as to why the plane was brought down, saying explicitly during his weekly national radio and television address that  "That was a plane that we found full of drugs."

However, Venezuela has so far shown no evidence of the cocaine found on the aircraft. Nor has it presented any information on who the pilot was, despite Maduro’s claim that Foreign Minister Elias Jaua has been instructed "to give all the necessary explanations" to Mexico.

Mexico, clearly unhappy with Maduro’s grandstanding, responded immediately by saying that Venezuela’s ambassador would be summoned on Monday to provide an explanation.

Mexico has a right to be suspicious. Until this point, Venezuela has made no claim that there were drugs on board, and has yet to provide any evidence.

More conflicting details have emerged on what may have actually occurred on November 4. According to Venezuelan authorities, the plane entered its air space without authorization, whereupon it was chased for 40 minutes. It ignored radio warnings, and then landed on a remote strip, where no people were found on board.

This conflicts with published reports of photos taken by the Venezuelan military of plane wreckage, and earlier claims that the plane had been shot down or “brought” down.

Though possible, it makes little sense that a pilot, followed by the Venezuelan military, would crash-land in a remote landing strip in Venezuela and then disappear safely into the jungle. It should be noted that the jet is a Hawker – this is an executive jet, not suited to take off and landing on jungle airstrips.

Mexican officials have not altered their statement made last Friday that there were seven people aboard the plane including the pilot and co-pilot, and that they flew from the central Mexican state of Querétaro  under false identities.

This latest dust-up between Venezuela and Mexico comes as the foreign ministers from the two countries pledged to improve bilateral ties and pursue new trade agreements in 2014. Ironically, on the table is the renewal of the Air Transport Agreement, originally signed in 1987.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

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