AMERICAS

Police sources: Minister met Venezuelan vice-president to avoid her entry into Spain

Media reports claim that transportation chief José Luis Ábalos had secret talks with Delcy Rodríguez inside a private aircraft in Madrid’s Barajas airport in the early hours of Monday

Opposition parties in Spain are calling on the transportation minister, José Luis Ábalos, to confirm whether or not he met in secret with the Venezuelan vice-president, Delcy Rodríguez, in the early hours of Monday morning at Madrid’s Adolfo Suárez-Barajas airport. European Union sanctions prevent Rodríguez from entering the bloc’s airspace.

According to a story published on Spanish news website Vozpopuli, Ábalos held a meeting with President Nicolás Maduro’s second-in-command inside a private plane owned by the company Sky Valet, taking advantage of a technical stop in Spain on the way to Turkey.

The story also stated that Rodríguez and six of her traveling companions, including her chief of staff, entered one of the VIP lounges in Barajas. Vozpopuli reported that Ábalos denied having met with the Venezuelan lawmaker.

Ábalos, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), has told EL PAÍS that he was at the airport on private business, to meet the Venezuelan tourism minister, Félix Plasencia, with whom he has been friends for several years and who was traveling on the same plane as the Venezuelan vice-president.

Plasencia, who is a Spanish citizen, according to the minister, arrived in Madrid as the head of the Venezuelan delegation attending the Fitur tourism fair, currently taking place in the Spanish capital.

Ábalos told EL PAÍS that he did not have any formal contact with the Venezuelan vice-president and that a meeting with her was not his intention when he traveled to the airport. He added that in recent months he has had a number of meetings with members of the Venezuelan opposition, including the acting president, Juan Guiadó, Carlos E. Cué reports.

But by Friday afternoon, police sources were telling a different story. According to their version of events, Ábalos was called to the scene given Rodríguez’s insistence that she be allowed to disembark from the aircraft. The minister is alleged to have boarded the plane to convince her not to step onto Spanish soil, given that such an action would cause a diplomatic incident. Ábalos is said to have warned Rodríguez that she would have to be detained were she to leave the plane. Police sources claim that the minister managed to calm the Venezuelan vice-president down, and she eventually stayed on board the aircraft, accompanied for a brief time by Ábalos, while the crew left to rest.

Activity log

According to the activity log of the plane, which has registration number TC-AKE, the flight left the Maiquietía Simón Bolivar International Airport in Caracas on Sunday, January 19 at 10.12am local time. After eight hours and 59 minutes flight time, it landed in Barajas on Monday January 20, at 12.12am. The plane was in Barajas until 2.42pm the same day, when it took off headed for the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul, according to the same log, to which EL PAÍS has had access.

One of the spokespersons in Congress for the conservative Popular Party (PP), José Ignacio Echániz, gave a press conference on Thursday at which he called for Ábalos to urgently make a statement. He also demanded answers from the new foreign minister, Arancha González Laya.

Edmundo Bal, spokesperson for center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), also demanded official explanations. “Did Ábalos meet with the vice-president of Maduro’s totalitarian regime?” he asked via Twitter. “With someone who is banned from entering the European Union for being a senior official of that tyranny?”

For its part, far-right Vox has registered a number of questions with the speaker’s committee in Congress, aimed at clarifying whether the meeting took place and if so, its content.

Delcy Rodríguez is one of 25 individuals included on the list of people banned from entering the European Union’s airspace. The 28 member states of the bloc – including Spain – approved in 2018 a veto on a number of figures from the Maduro regime, on the basis that they are considered to be involved in activities that are repressing the people.

The veto also bans Rodríguez from having any kind of asset – property or bank accounts – in EU territory.

Madrid-based digital website elcierredigital.com also published a story with information about the alleged visit made by Delcy Rodríguez to the Spanish airport. Ciudadanos registered a number of questions in Congress about this episode.

These alleged meetings coincide with the tour that the acting president of Venezuela, Juan Guiadó, is currently making around European countries, and that potentially could bring him to Spain on Saturday, where he is due to lead a demonstration in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square against the Bolivarian regime in Venezuela.

Guaidó has already been greeted in Davos, Switzerland by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and his team are hoping to meet with the French president, Emmanuel Macron. In Spain, Guaidó is likely to be received on Saturday by the foreign minister, Arancha González Laya.

English version by Simon Hunter.