Maiquetía, an international war airport

Passengers face intimidation and multiple checks

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Saturday October 26, 2013  12:00 AM
"What do you do for a living? Where are you staying? Do you have relatives there? How much money are you taking with you?" these are some of the questions that passengers are getting used at Simón Bolívar International Airport of Maiquetía. They answer the questions with a smile to the military staff in order not to raise suspicion that leads them straight to a baggage examination.

For foreigners, the militarization existing at the airport continues to be weird. A Spanish citizen who traveled back to his country expressed amazement at the baggage examination he had to go through, as well as the long-lasting queues before actually being checked by the National Guard's Office (GN).

The Anti-drug Unit of such body is in charge of conducting the examinations, whose main purpose is to prevent drug traffic. Notwithstanding, in other countries, it is conducted by civilian offices specialized in psychotropic drugs, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Special Group of Anti-drug Enforcement in Peru or the National Department of Colombia's Police (DIRAN). The distinction between the civilian world and the military one could make the difference when it comes to dealing with the costumer and social skills; however, those at the Anti-drug Unit of Maiquetía claim that the type of questions they make is part of a strategy and does not violate consumers' rights.

For Rocío San Miguel, President of non-governmental organization Citizen Control for Security, Defense and Armed Forces, the intimidating treatment corresponds to a criminalization policy of users in light of recent flaws, especially after 1.3 tons of cocaine were trafficked from Maiquetía Airport through airline Air France. "We are now being treated as if we were drug traffickers, and that discredits the FANB (Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela) and its job, because an efficient control does not come from mistreatment but from technology and training."

Freddy Charris, Aeronautical Consultant, coincides in the fact that the arrest of the eight culprits in the drug traffic case with airline Air France increases the reasons to reinforce –in a discretionary way- examination at the airport, which only takes place in flights with potential risk, such as the ones that head for Europe, the United States and Peru. In such routes, the check-in tends to delay and people line up, in some cases up to three hours.

Travelers on their way to the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, October 16, explained that the airline's counter could not open unless the baggage examination was conducted by the National Guard. "I got here at 7:30 a.m. and they opened at 9 am because officers from the GN had not settled in the place. We were supposed to be already checked by 9 am," a young citizen pointed out.

Silent repression

Despite the waiting time, users remain silent. They do not complain when servicemen question them in low –but piercing- voice everything they will be doing once they depart from Venezuelan territory. The atmosphere generated by the military presence at the airport makes people feel oppressed. José Argenis Ramírez frequently travels and expressed his disagreement with the existing treatment. "I was asked what I did for a living, when I bought the flight ticket, who bought it for me, where the money came from, and how much money I was taking with me. My dad was asked to show his credit cards in order to see them," Argenis Ramírez claims.

Those at the Autonomous Institute of Maiquetía International Airport (IAIM) assert that operators speed up their time at the check-in in order not to delay and also claim that the airport cannot control the type of examination conducted by the GN, neither can it regulate the long-lasting queues. They believe that queues take place because passengers come to the airport quite early. "I was indicated that the examination was taking more than the average time because of a deeper inspection, and therefore we came back with a two-fold time in advance," an old man -who traveled to New York admitted.

Translated by Adrián Valera Villani