Venezuelan and American officials gave conflicting accounts of the arrival, and abrupt departure, of a delegation of U.S. congressmen at the country's main airport Monday. The U.S. military aircraft carrying the delegation arrived at Maiquetia International Airport, but Venezuelan authorities did not give the passengers authorization to disembark, U.S. Embassy official Brian Penn said.
"Government officials did not allow them off the plane, and that's the cause of the canceled visit," Penn told local Globovision television. The group of U.S. lawmakers was led by Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican who chairs the full International Relations Committee.
The six-member delegation was harassed by customs officials for two hours before being refused entry to Venezuela, according to a press release from Hyde's office. "The delegation members expressed their profound disappointment in the Venezuelan government's capricious and unexplained decision," the press release stated.
Jose Cabello, president of the airport, denied that Venezuelan authorities turned back the group.
"They didn't contact Venezuelan authorities" at the airport, Cabello told the state-run TV channel.
Cabello said U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield arrived at the airport's special zone for noncommercial aircraft, entered the plane while it sat on the tarmac, and presumably spoke briefly with the pilot and passengers before leaving the airport in an embassy vehicle. "We understand they went to Aruba. There was no problem," he said.
Officials at Venezuela's foreign ministry or the U.S. Embassy could not be immediately reached for comment regarding the plane's stop at the airport, which is located approximately 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of Caracas. Relations between the United States and Venezuela have been tense recently, reports the AP. I.L.