American Airlines Crew Detained in Venezuela After Making Hugo Chavez Joke Over PA
In December 2007, Venezuela created its own time zone, moving the clock back half an hour on a permanent basis, and according to the U.S. embassy report, “the crew member was likely trying to remind passengers of this and to suggest they turn their watches back 30 minutes.”
American Airlines Venezuela manager Omar Nottaro told the U.S. embassy on October 1, 2008, that a passenger and friend of Venezuelan National lawmaker Carlos Echezuria Rodriguez, thought the crew member had said “loco Chavez time,” which means crazy in Spanish.
The passenger, Nestor Maldonado Lanza, told pro-Chavez lawmaker Rodriguez who was waiting for him outside, that the pilot had called President Chavez crazy.
Then Rodriguez called Venezuelan Vice President Carrizales to report the incident. The Vice President called the Venezuelan civil aviation authority president who went to the airport, and even the Venezuelan domestic intelligence agency opened an investigation.
According to the report, the Venezuelan intelligency agency backed out of investigation and turned it over to immigration authorities, as the crew had not officially entered Venezuela.
The crew then waited inside the airport for the results of a meeting between the airport, several Venezuelan agencies and the American Airlines staff.
The report said lawmaker Rodriguez demanded to hear the on-board recordings of in-flight announcements and wanted each crew member to give a statement, but the local American Airlines manager promised to put the crew back on the empty airplane as soon as it was refueled and get the captain and crew out of the country immediately.
“Nottaro also apologized in person to INAC President Martinez and committed to writing several letters of apology on October 1,” the embassy report said.
The crew left Venezuela at 11:30 p.m. canceling AA flight 902 out of Caracas the morning of October 1.
According to the embassy, it was the second incident involving a U.S. carrier in a month at Simon Bolivar International Airport.
“It is yet another example of how heightened sensitivities are in the bilateral relationship when a chance remark escalates within minutes to the level of the Venezuelan Vice Presidency,” the report added.