The captain and crew of an American Airlines flight were briefly detained after a crew member advised passengers to set their watches to “local Chavez time” upon arrival in Caracas, according to a secret US report revealed by WikiLeaks.
President Hugo Chavez created a new time zone for Venezuela in 2007, moving the clock back half an hour on a permanent basis.
The US embassy report, dated October 1 2008, released by the whistleblowing website, said there appeared to be a misunderstanding over one crucial word in the crew member’s announcement – “local” vs “loco” – which means crazy in Spanish.
The embassy said one passenger, a friend of pro-Chavez MP Carlos Echezuria Rodriguez, thought the crew member said “loco Chavez time”.
American Airlines local manager Omar Nottaro reported to the embassy that the crew member announced to passengers: “Welcome to Venezuela. Local Chavez time is …”
The memo, written a day after the incident, said the airline manager’s account was contradicted by that of Venezuelan immigration authorities, who wrote in their report that the crew member had announced “the hour of the crazy Chavez and his women”.
Mr Chavez has long traded verbal barbs with US officials and the incident quickly escalated after the passenger told the MP friend, who was waiting for him outside, “that the pilot had called President Chavez crazy”, the document said.
It said the congressman promptly reported the incident to then Vice President Ramon Carrizalez, who called the head of the civil aviation authority into action.
The embassy said Venezuela’s DISIP domestic intelligence agency opened an investigation but deferred to immigration authorities since the crew had not passed through immigration. The crew then was held in the airport while officials discussed what would be done.
The American Airlines manager told a US diplomat that the MP demanded to hear recordings of the announcements when Flight 903 touched down. But the airline manager was able to defuse the situation “by promising to put the crew back on the empty airplane as soon as it was refuelled and get the captain and crew out of the country immediately”, the memo said.