The Venezuelan government once detained an American Airlines pilot and crew on suspicion that one of the crew members “insulted” Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez by calling him crazy, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable posted today by WikiLeaks and reviewed by WND.
The cable revealed that on Sept. 30, 2008, the U.S. embassy in Caracas received word the American Airlines crew had been detained, apparently after a friend of a Venezuelan politician believed he heard a crew member insult Chavez.
As of 2006, it became a crime in Venezuela to insult the country’s president.
The cable related that a passenger who had been on American Airlines flight 903 to Caracas claimed he overheard a crew member announce the current local time as “loco Chavez time.”
“Loco “in Spanish means “crazy.”
The cable explained the crew member, who was informing passengers of the local time, may have been misheard stating “local” Chavez time. In December 2007, Venezuela created its own time zone, moving the clock back half an hour on a permanent basis.
“The crew member was likely trying to remind passengers of this and to suggest they turn their watches back 30 minutes,” stated the cable.
Passenger Nestor Maldonado, however, a friend of Venezuelan National Assemblyman Carlos Echezuria Rodriguez, called the assemblyman to report he heard a crew member refer to Chavez as “loco.”
Rodriguez called all the way up the political chain to Venezuelan Vice President Carrizales to report the incident. Carruzales then called the president of the country’s civil aviation authority, who went to the airport and turned over the investigation to the Venezuelan Immigration Authority, which may have distorted what happened.
The U.S. embassy in Caracas says it later obtained a report from Venezuelan immigration officials that claimed the crew announcement had instead been, “the hour of the crazy Chavez and his women”.
According to American Airlines Country Manager Omar Nottaro, Rodriguez demanded to hear the on-board recordings of in-flight announcements and wanted each crew member to give a statement about the incident.
Nottaro was able to defuse the situation by promising 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, stated the cable.
According to the embassy cable, Nottaro apologized in person to Venezuelan governmental officials and committed to writing several letters of apology on October 1.
Venezuelan authorities accepted Nottaro’s offer, and the crew left Venezuela hours later.
The leaked cable explains, “American made the decision to turn the plane around even though it meant canceling AA flight  out of Caracas the morning of Oct. 1, at considerable cost to the airline.”