Many roads lead to China, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said on Friday when he announced that the U.S. had banned his presidential plane from flying over Puerto Rico en route to Asia's largest country. Maduro said he intends to reach his destination, whether or not his flight route needs to be redirected to avoid American airspace.
“This is infuriating -- the U.S. government is denying us to follow the Caribbean route over Puerto Rico,” Maduro said on Venezuelan public TV. “To deny a state leader to fly over a colonized land, like Puerto Rico, it’s a serious offense.”
Maduro’s is planning a 12-day official visit to China for talks on trade and commercial relations. Foreign Minister Elías Jaua said the flight plan filed by Venezuela was rejected by U.S. authorities without explanation.
“We denounce it as yet more U.S. aggression,” Jaua told Reuters. “We reserve the right to take whatever measures we have to if the U.S. government doesn't rectify this new assault on Venezuela’s sovereignty.”
Jaua said the government was studying other routes, and Maduro’s visit to Beijing was still going according to schedule.
In return, Washington denied the accusations and said that a last-minute authorization was issued late on Thursday for the request lodged a day earlier -- as opposed to the required three days’ notice.
Department of State spokesperson Marie Harf said the U.S. had granted the permission to fly over Puerto Rico. “Although the request was not properly submitted, U.S. authorities worked with Venezuelan officials to resolve the issue,” she said. “U.S. authorities made an extraordinary effort to work with relevant authorities to grant overflight approval in a matter of hours.”
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Calixto Ortega rebutted Harf’s declarations, telling Caracas newspaper El Universal that the permission to fly over Puerto Rico was denied and “it is in writing.”
Ortega explained that Maduro’s official flight had been filed as a regular flight instead of a diplomatic trip. “This impasse is making us work against the clock to ensure the president can fly out of Venezuela,” he added.
Venezuela also said the U.S. denied a visa to Presidency Minister Willmer Barrientos to travel to New York for the next General Assembly at the United Nations, for which Maduro has confirmed his attendance.
“I cannot accept that one of my Ministers is denied a visa," Maduro said. "If I need to go through diplomatic procedures with the U.S., I will.”
Jaua said Venezuela is still trying to solve the problem with the U.S. government, hoping that “the high officials rectify the mistake of their employees.”