News & Current Affairs

September 13, 2008

Expulsions stoke US-LatAm dispute

Expulsions stoke US-LatAm dispute

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

US-Venezuelan relations are said to have hit a new low

A series of tit-for-tat expulsions has left the US without ambassadors in three Latin American countries.

Bolivia and Venezuela have expelled their US envoys, accusing Washington of trying to oust Bolivia’s government.

Meanwhile, Honduras has refused the credentials of a new US ambassador, postponing his appointment.

Washington has responded by throwing out envoys from Bolivia and Venezuela and freezing the assets of three aides to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The US regretted the actions of Venezuela and Bolivia, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

“This reflects the weakness and desperation of these leaders as they face internal challenges, and an inability to communicate effectively internationally in order to build international support,” he said.

Bolivian and Venezuelan allegations – including that the US supports continuing anti-government protests in Bolivia – were false “and the leaders of those countries know it”, Mr McCormack added.

Relations between the US and Latin American opponents such as Mr Chavez had seemed to be on a holding pattern – but the situation has changed in a matter of days.

This week’s arrival in Venezuela of two Russian bomber planes taking part in a military exercise is not thought to have helped the situation.

And with more joint military exercises in the pipeline, our correspondent says it could take a while for tensions to subside.

Bolivia accusations

Freezing the assets of the three Venezuelan aides, the US Treasury accused them of “materially assisting the narcotics trafficking” of rebels in Colombia.

All three had “armed, abetted and funded the Farc, even as it terrorised and kidnapped innocents”, according to a statement from the US Treasury referring to the left-wing rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

Analysts say the trio – Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios, Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva and Ramon Rodriguez Chacin – are members of Mr Chavez’s inner circle.

Bolivian President Evo Morales (10 September)

Evo Morales accused the US envoy of meddling in Bolivia’s internal affairs

Mr Carvajal Barrios is a military intelligence director who has protected Farc drug shipments from seizure, claimed the US statement.

Mr Rangel Silva is another intelligence chief who had pushed for greater co-operation between Venezuela and the Farc, the US Treasury alleged.

And Mr Rodriguez Chacin, who until Monday was Venezuela’s justice minister, is Caracas’ main “weapons contact” for the Farc, the statement charged.

The flurry of diplomatic expulsions began on Thursday, when Bolivia threw out the American ambassador to La Paz, Philip Goldberg.

President Evo Morales said the US envoy had been siding with a violent opposition movement in the east of Bolivia, where groups are demanding greater autonomy and a bigger share of gas export revenues.

‘Go to hell’

US officials said the allegations were baseless, but nonetheless expelled the Bolivian ambassador to Washington in retaliation.

This prompted the Venezuelan leader to step into the fray alongside his Bolivian ally.

President Chavez gave US ambassador Patrick Duddy 72 hours to leave Caracas, telling him: “Go to hell 100 times.”

On Friday, Washington responded by giving the Venezuelan ambassador his marching orders.

Now Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has refused to accept the credentials of a new US ambassador.

“We are not breaking relations with the United States. We only are [doing this] is solidarity with Morales, who has denounced the meddling of the United States in Bolivia’s internal affairs,” Mr Zelaya said.

In a separate development, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega said he supports Bolivia, but did not announce whether he would take any action against the US envoy in Managua.

A growing number of left-wing Latin American governments have backed Mr Chavez’s anti-US rhetoric.

The region has also benefited from the Venezuelan leader’s generosity with oil.

But the US is a leading trade partner and a major aid donor to Latin America, so few in the region will be happy relations have plummeted to this new low, according to our correspondent.

He says this diplomatic row is serious but will probably soon blow over, while Bolivia’s problems are only likely to get worse.

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August 21, 2008

Search for clues in Madrid crash

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Search for clues in Madrid crash

EFE]

Examination of the wreckage began the morning after the crash

Accident investigators have begun examining the wreckage of a plane that crashed at Madrid’s Barajas airport, leaving 153 passengers dead.

They will also start to analyze the flight data and voice recorders, which have both been recovered.

Three days of official mourning have been declared in Madrid, as relatives arrive at a makeshift mortuary in the capital to identify bodies.

Nineteen people survived the crash and several are critically hurt.

Of the 19 survivors of Spanair flight JK 5022, four are listed as being in a “very serious” condition, with another six only slightly better, Spain’s El Pais newspaper reported on Thursday. Eight remain under observation with one only slightly injured, the newspaper said.

Relatives wait in Las Palmas airport, on Gran Canaria (20/08/2008)
The worst is the identification of the bodies. It is the end of all hope
Jesus Lopez Santana
Spanish Red Cross

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is expected to visit the injured in Madrid’s hospitals, while King Juan Carlos will visit Barajas airport.

The king is also likely to visit anxious families waiting for the grim confirmation that their loved-ones are among the dead.

Experts at a temporary mortuary near the airport say work to identify the dead is likely to be slow and painstaking, as many of the bodies were badly burned in Wednesday’s inferno.

“The worst is the identification of the bodies,” Red Cross spokesman Jesus Lopes Santana told the El Mundo newspaper.

“It is the end of all hope and when we see the worst scenes, because the majority of the relatives break down when they hear the news.”

The Spanair flight, bound for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, took off on Wednesday lunchtime with 172 people on board, among them 10 crew.

Initial reports suggested that a fire had broken out in one of the MD82 plane’s engines during or shortly after take-off, and the plane ended up in a field.

Spanish Transport Minister Magdalena Alvarez said the plane had earlier begun taxiing to the runway, before turning back because of a technical problem, which had caused an hour’s delay in the take-off.

Spanish media said the pilot had reported a fault with a temperature gauge, but it was thought to have been fixed.

Speaking on Thursday, Ms Alvarez said a thorough investigation would be carried out, with a full examination of the flight recorders and available pictures, but that it was very early to draw conclusions about the crash.

A special independent commission has been established to probe the cause of the crash, Spanish media reported.

Anger

Spanair has released the official passenger manifest, confirming reports that 20 children and two babies were on board the plane.

Among those who survived were three children, aged six, eight and 11, reports said. At least one of the 19 survivors has yet to be identified.

Map

Overnight a long convoy of black hearses rolled out of the airport grounds to carry bodies to the makeshift mortuary, where the victims’ relatives had gathered, some of whom had traveled from the Canary Islands.

The convention center on the outskirts of the capital was also used as a mortuary after the Madrid train bombings four years ago.

Many of the relatives have expressed anger and disgust at Spanair, blaming it for the accident.

He says the injured include a young brother and sister, who immediately asked rescue workers about their parents.

Spanish ministers said foul play had been ruled out and the crash was considered to be an accident.

The 15-year-old plane had passed a safety inspection in January, said Sergio Allard, a spokesman for Spanair, which is owned by Scandinavian firm SAS.

Spanish media said some German, Swedish, Chilean and Colombian nationals had been among the passengers.

‘All destruction’

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero cut short his holiday in the south of the country to visit the scene of the crash.

Hearses carrying the bodies of victims of the crash (20/08/2008)

A convoy of hearses removed bodies from the scene of the crash

Speaking at the airport, he said that “the government is overwhelmed, very affected, as are all Spanish citizens, by this tragedy”.

Television images on Wednesday showed plumes of smoke rising over the field in which the remains of the plane were resting.

Emergency services chief Ervigio Corral said that rescue workers had been faced with “a desolate scene”.

“You couldn’t distinguish that there was an aircraft there apart from the remains of the tail,” he said. “There was nothing of fuselage.”

Another rescue worker, Pablo Albella, told AP news agency: “The fuselage is destroyed. The plane burned. I have seen a kilometer of charred land and few whole pieces of the fuselage. It is all destruction.”

Messages of sympathy have been sent to Spain by leaders around the world.

The presidents of Russia, France and Italy, Germany’s chancellor and Britain’s queen joined with Latin American leaders in sending their condolences.

It was the deadliest air accident in Spain since a Colombian airline’s Boeing 747 crashed in Madrid in 1983 killing 181 people.

People concerned for relatives or friends who might have been on board the plane can call Spanair’s helpline on +34 800 400 200 (calls possible from inside Spain only).

Map and satellite image of Madrid airport, plus MD82 graphic
MD82 AIRCRAFT

Passengers 150-170
Cruise speed 504mph (811km/h)
Length 45.1m (148ft)
Height 9m (29.5ft)
Wing-span 32.8m (107.6ft)
Maximum range 2,052 nautical miles (3,798km)


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