US rebuffs Venezuelan claim over Puerto Rico airspace

The United States today rebuffed Venezuela’s claim that it had banned President Nicolas Maduro from flying through US airspace over Puerto Rico with Washington saying that Caracas had not complied with the required notice and that permission was finally approved on the evening of September 19.

In a statement issued through the US embassy here, the  U.S. Department of State said that Venezuelan Government officials aboard a Cuban-registered aircraft sought approval to pass through U.S. airspace over Puerto Rico en route to Europe without following established diplomatic clearance procedures.

“The Government of Venezuela made a request for diplomatic clearance for their aircraft to enter U.S. airspace with one day’s advance notice.  Diplomatic flight clearances are required to be made with 3 days advance notice.

“Although the request was not properly submitted, U.S. authorities worked with Venezuelan officials at the Venezuelan embassy to resolve the issue. U.S. authorities made an extraordinary effort to work with relevant authorities to grant over flight approval in a matter of hours.

“As a result, we notified the Venezuelan authorities of the approved over flight request the evening of September 19”, the State Department statement said.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that Venezuela had said that the US had banned Maduro’s jet from flying through US airspace over Puerto Rico en route to a state visit to China Maduro is due in Beijing this weekend for bilateral talks. Foreign Minister Elias Jaua had said a flight plan filed by Venezuela that would have routed Maduro’s plane over Puerto Rico had been rejected by US authorities.

“We denounce it as yet more US aggression,” Jaua said in the Reuters report. “We reserve the right to take whatever measures we have to if the US government and its aviation authorities don’t rectify this new assault on Venezuela’s sovereignty.”

Maduro has often clashed with Washington since winning an election in April that was triggered by the death from cancer of his mentor, the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

“What’s going on in the United States? Why are they so nervous? Why so much despair?” he asked on state TV during a meeting with his party’s candidates for local elections.

“Denying a head of state permission to fly through airspace that they colonized, like in Puerto Rico, is a grave mistake.” His trip to China would go ahead regardless, Maduro said, to applause from the crowd. “They can’t stop us!” Reuters reported.

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