Venezuela Accuses US of Smuggling under Diplomatic Cover

Venezuela’s Minister of Justice and the Interior, Jesse Chacón, accused the United States embassy of evading customs controls and therefore of smuggling when it brought four truckloads of undeclared goods into Venezuela, which the US says are protected by diplomatic treaty.

Caracas, Venezuela, August 26, 2006 —Venezuela’s Minister of Justice and the Interior, Jesse Chacón, accused the United States embassy of evading customs controls and therefore of smuggling yesterday. On Wednesday, Venezuela intercepted 20 containers that arrived at Venezuela’s main international airport, which the US says are diplomatic and personal affects that are protected by the Vienna Convention.

Chacón explained that the shipment was intercepted because only four of the 20 containers had been declared as diplomatic material. The rest of the shipment must pass through customs, which it did not and was therefore intercepted outside the airport. According to Chacón, the confiscated shipment included 80 kilos of poultry and other “merchandise.” The four containers that could be considered diplomatic material contained various personal affects such as clothing and toys.

According to the US State Department, which filed a formal complaint on Friday, Venezuelan authorities violated the Vienna Conventions when they stopped the four trucks that were carrying the shipment.

The Vienna Convention states that countries are allowed to ship documents and other material related to their diplomatic work to their embassies without passing through customs inspections. Such shipments, known as diplomatic valises, must be announced to the host country’s authorities prior to their arrival.

“Suddenly and without explanation Venezuelan authorities denied the vehicles permission to leave the airport and insisted that it register the valises,” even though US officials presented the “necessary documentation,” said State Department spokesperson Curtis Cooper.

According to a BBC report, US State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said, “The impounded cargo consisted of household effects of a US diplomat and a shipment of commissary goods.”

In yesterday’s press conference, Chacón also said that Venezuelan officials had discovered that an earlier shipment of military equipment, which is apparently now located at the US embassy, and had also passed through the Venezuelan airport without proper controls.

The State Department explained that indeed a shipment had been sent to Venezuela with military equipment, which had been ordered by the Venezuelan military ”prior to termination of arms sales to Venezuela.” A few months ago the US placed a ban on arms sales to Venezuela with the argument that Venezuela was not sufficiently supporting the US war on terrorism.

According to Chacón, however, while shipping documents indicated that the military shipment included ejection seat propulsion motors for Bronco airplanes that had been ordered by Venezuela’s military, there was also other material that it did not order, such as detonators, pliers, rocket motors, and other items. “What is this material coming for? This has us worried,” said Chacón. Also, none of this material has so far been received by Venezuela’s military.

For Chacón it is the US that violated the Vienna Convention. “I have no doubt that in the case of the diplomatic valise of the United States an open and flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention has been committed. Along with Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry we are trying to identify the type of violations the North American government has committed,” said Chacón.

Chacón further explained that the 20 containers on the four trucks measured about 3 meters wide, by 2 meters high. Chacón also demonstrated some of the paperwork that supposedly authorized the shipment, saying that the license plates of the trucks did not match the documentation and that the fees for processing the paperwork were paid a full day after the shipment had arrived.

Diplomatic relations between the US and Venezuela have been tense for a while now. In addition to the US arms sales ban, last February Venezuela expelled the US naval attaché on the grounds of having spied on Venezuela. In retaliation, the US expelled the executive assistant to the Venezuelan Ambassador.

Chavez slams US from China – China Endorses Venezuela for UN

While on a state visit to China, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez continued his attacks against the US for opposing Venezuela’s bid for the Latin American rotating UN Security Council seat. “the United States government has unleashed a campaign against us so as to prevent that Venezuela be elected – and then they talk about democracy. This is a dictatorial policy of blackmail and pressure,” said Chavez.

Chavez announced that during his visit to China, its president, Hu Jintao, had assured him that China would support Venezuela for its Security Council seat bid. “We have many successes,” said Chavez, “the support of China, that of Russia announced by [President] Putin, the support of Mercosur [Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay], of Caricom [Caribbean Community], and a daily increasing number of African countries, the support of the Arab League. These are great successes for Venezuela.”