WASHINGTON (Rooters Agency) – The government has lodged strong diplomatic protests with both Mexico and Nicaragua following the forced diversion of a US airliner denied the right to continue on its intended course from Bogotá to Houston, Texas.
After Mexico abruptly canceled overflight permission for Alligator Airlines flight 0007, and several Central American countries refused to allow it to land to refuel, the plane was granted emergency permission to land in Managua. When the aircraft touched down in the Nicaraguan capital, it reportedly had enough fuel to remain airborne for only another 40 minutes.
The US protest to Nicaragua does not relate to the Nicaraguan authorities’ decision to allow the plane to land, but to their refusal to allow it to refuel and depart until they had inspected the aircraft and determined that it was not, in fact, carrying either William or Roberto Isaías, the brothers who have been sheltering in the United States since 2000 to avoid a prison sentence for bank embezzlement of more than $600 million in their native Ecuador. The US has refused Ecuador’s requests for their extradition.
While Mexican authorities cited “unpredictable atmospheric disturbances” as the reason for canceling overflight permission, it is widely believed that the decision was made at the request of Ecuador, which believed that the Isaías brothers were returning to the US after inspecting some of their ill-gotten property in South America.
The “outrageous” Mexican action, as the State Department called it, comes only 10 days after the similar and equally disturbing incident in which a US Air Force plane carrying several high-ranking officers and intending to return to the US from a good-will visit to Chile, was blocked from crossing the airspace of Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador, effectively blocking it from all but the most circuitous returns.
In the latter case, Venezuela has made no secret of the fact that it originated the request to block the flight, because it had reason to believe that the USAF plane was carrying the notorious terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, who lives freely in the United States despite being wanted in Venezuela (where he escaped from prison) for terrorism and murder, including the blowing up of a Cuban airliner with 76 people on board. Permission to overfly Peru, Ecuador and countries in Central America was granted only a day later, after Chilean authorities declared that a thorough search of the aircraft had determined that Posada Carriles was not on it, not even hidden in the US officers’ luggage.
These two incidents seem to have overshadowed the diplomatic fracas that occurred two weeks earlier, when Paraguay, acting on a request from the Bolivian government, refused to allow a US aircraft carrying the US ambassador to take off until Paraguayan authorities had verified that it was not carrying Bolivia’s former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who is wanted for trial in Bolivia for the slaughter of peaceful demonstrators before he fled in 2003 and whom the US has refused to extradite.
This string of incidents has clearly alarmed the administration, which is devoting considerable effort to finding a way of preventing more of them. “You can imagine what it would be like,” said one State Department official who asked not to be named, “if every country thought it could block plane flights just to get its hands on a fugitive.”