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Pdvsa planes are now carrying top officials from Cuba and Venezuela

By Francisco Olivares, El Universal

The planes owned by state-run oil giant Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (Pdvsa) have made unusually frequent flights to Cuba. Cuban ministers, diplomats, relatives, and officials are frequent beneficiaries of the so-called "colitas".

On July 8, the Cuban Vice President, Carlos Aurelio Lange Dávila, visited Venezuela amid some secrecy. His visit was not covered by the official media; there were no diplomatic protocol acts and all the private media could do was spreading the rumor.

Yolanda Ojeda Reyes, the reporter in charge of the diplomatic source in El Universal, wrote back then: "Sources concur that since very long time ago, Cubans feel at home (in Venezuela). Therefore, quick meetings, a technical stop at an airport, or even unofficial meetings, do not require diplomatic notices, as it is normally the case with other embassies (...)" At that time, El Universal unsuccessfully tried to interview Cuban Ambassador to Venezuela Germán Sánchez Otero.

A piece of information that was not disclosed at that time was the fact that Lange Dávila arrived in Venezuela aboard a Falcon 50 airplane owned by Pdvsa. On July 7, said plane flew from the Simón Bolívar International Airport near Caracas to Havana carrying just one passenger, the Venezuelan citizen Alberto Valderrama Terán. His mission was to bring back to Venezuela a group of Cuban officials headed by Lange Dávila. On July 8, the Pdvsa-owned Falcon 50 plane landed at the Simón Bolívar International Airport carrying Valderrama, Lange Dávila, and other four Cuban officials.

That was not the first time Lange Dávila and Cuban officials traveled aboard the jets of the Venezuelan oil conglomerate. As shown by flight registers, Lange Dávila has traveled several times to Venezuela aboard Pdvsa-owned planes. He did on May 1 and November 11 this year. Flight registers for Pdvsa airplanes show that the aircrafts have frequently flown to the Caribbean island, carrying ministers, diplomats, political leaders, and relatives of top Venezuelan officials.

Noteworthy is the fact that Venezuela and Cuba signed an agreement providing for an air bridge that has allowed for the transportation of some 18,000 Cubans to Venezuela. In addition to that, now Pdvsa planes are carrying top officials from both countries in missions that have nothing to do with the oil industry.

When asked about these trips, Pdvsa President, Alí Rodríguez Araque, answered to El Universal that the Venezuelan oil industry is strictly complying with the rules governing the use of Pdvsa's two Falcon 50 planes.

Give me a lift

By the end of second presidential term of Rafael Caldera (1993-1998), a public scandal erupted. One of the Pdvsa-owned planes was supposedly used to transport former Treasury Minister Luis Raúl Matos Azócar from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Washington. The incident was reported by journalist Alfredo Peña -currently the Caracas Metropolitan Mayor. This incident gained the oil industry a significant rejection. The media did not report that aboard said flight were Planning Minister Teodoro Petkoff, the president of the Bank Deposit Protection and Insurance Fund (Fogade), Esther de Margulis, and the Energy and Mines Minister, Edwin Arrieta. Under the rules governing the use of Pdvsa planes back then, Arrieta was entitled to use one of Pdvsa Falcon 50 planes for official purposes. In addition, the officials were traveling to Washington for a meeting with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Pdvsa authorized the flight.

Nevertheless, then presidential runner Hugo Chávez utilized this issue as a powerful political weapon during the subsequent electoral campaign. Chávez continued to question the supposed misuse of Pdvsa planes. Once he was elected President of Venezuela, he announced: "We are going to sell those planes. There is no justification for having so many planes. My God! 128 planes! That is a whole air force!"

Planes for sale

But at that moment Chávez did not say that his administration planned to and did sell a Grumman planes fleet covering non-commercial air routes for Pdvsa affiliates. Said planes operated during 35 years and transported the oil industry staff and their relatives in times when no commercial airlines covered those routes. They were actually 35 planes, rather than 128, whose sale was already planned by the preceding administration for their preservation had no sense, considering that private planes were already covering the routes.

In addition to this fleet, Pdvsa owned other four planes: one King 350 and three Falcon 50 (YV455CP, YV450CP, and YV877CP). YV877CP was assigned to the Presidential Guard. The Falcon 50 planes have been accomplishing tasks for the oil industry, specifically for Pdvsa directors, Pdvsa president, and the Energy and Mines Minister. Such activities are governed by regulation requesting that any of these three instances have to authorize the use of the planes for tasks related or not to the oil industry, as it has apparently been in this case involving the transportation of the Cuban Vice President.

Another plane

Pdvsa has recently purchased another aircraft, one Falcon 2000 EX, serial 17, identified as N977CP. The Fleet National Bank financed said purchase. Citgo, Pdvsa's refining and marketing arm in the United States, bought this plane. It cost some $24-$27 million, and has a range of up to 4,000 miles, allowing it to fly to Europe or Asia. According to experts, this aircraft exceeds Citgo's requirements.

Translated by Maryflor Suárez


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