US Air Force plane cargo triggers serious Argentina/US diplomatic incident
Argentina presented a formal protest to the United States embassy in Buenos Aires over the incident of a US Air Force plan that landed in the country last Thursday with alleged undeclared military equipment.
In the protest note Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman urged the US government to assist local authorities in the investigation, called for an official apology and warned that the seized material would not be handed back.
“For the sake of Argentine security, they owe us a response” he stated and indicated that “this was not the first incident of such nature.”
“The last time this happened it didn’t grow to become a major incident due to the intervention of US ambassador to Argentina Vilma Martínez,” he explained.
However Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela described the situation as “puzzling and disturbing” and said that the incident has been “blown out of proportion, when it should have been solved in a much more respectful way”.
Mr. Timerman clarified that he is not accusing the US government, but “he is asking them to help Argentina maintain security in the country.
If they helped, the investigation would go much smoother.”
The Foreign Minister also stated that Argentina “was never disrespectful to the US,” and urged authorities to “acknowledge their mistake.”
“They were trying to bring warfare material into the country without letting us know”. He added “all they have to say is ‘We’re sorry’”.
Mr. Timerman continued to say that the US should not try to bring unauthorized material into the country without letting authorities know, and said that he had delivered an official letter of complaint to the US embassy in Buenos Aires.
Among the unauthorized items Mr. Timerman described “a briefcase containing morphine and psychotropic medication, highly-sensitive communication devices and a letter that read, in Spanish, ‘I am an American soldier, let my country know I’ve been arrested’.”
He also added that the plane was carrying a “chest full of expired medication,” and wondered: “what were they trying to do with that? Why was that on the plane?”
He clarified that the seized items “will not be returned, as any other country wouldn’t”.
The material seized from the plane’s cargo included “software, security information, weapons and narcotics,” all elements that according to the Argentine government, had not been authorized or listed by the US government.
The cargo, mostly weaponry and ammunition, was meant to be used in training for officers from Argentina’s Federal Police GEOF special operations group.
Valenzuela said that the way local authorities treated US personnel was “improper” adding he was surprised the matter hadn’t been discussed in a more respectful way”.
He also said the US government would “ask for the seized material to be returned.”
Regarding the material seized by local customs authorities, the secretary said that “what the planes usually carry are a large amount of equipment that has been previously discussed with Argentine officials,” and added that, after discovering certain discrepancies, the matter should have been discussed and resolved without these excessive accusations.
At the same time, Mr. Valenzuela said that “the US never intended to break any Argentine laws.”
“All we wanted was to perform some constructive, respectful joint work in an important area such as hostage-taking,” he said, adding that he was “saddened to see how the situation had escalated into excessive accusations.”
Earlier, a spokesperson for the US State Department had said that ”the training had been previously arranged between US military experts and the Argentine Federal police and was approved by the government of Argentina’s Ministry of Security and the Foreign Affairs Ministry,” a spokesperson for the US State Department said.
Regarding the local government’s seizing of sensitive material, the State Department assured that they were taken after an “unusual and unannounced search of the aircraft’s cargo.”
“The actions taken by Argentine officials involved in this incident are puzzling and disturbing,” the State Department’s spokesperson said, adding that the material was inappropriately seized for which they are seeking explanations from the local government.