Thu, Jul 28, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Mexican mathematician denied access to US airspace

The Guardian, Washington

A Mexican activist, mathematician and writer claims she has fallen foul of a US blacklist after a plane on which she was a passenger was denied access to US airspace.

Raquel Gutierrez Aguilar, a Mexican citizen, had been on her way from Mexico City to Italy via Spain for a conference last week when her flight was turned back. She believes it was because of charges against her in Bolivia two decades ago involving a revolutionary group, the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army. She was arrested at the time, but the charges were later dropped.

Her former husband, Alvaro Garcia Linera, now vice president of Bolivia, was also arrested and the charges dropped.

The US maintains a blacklist of thousands of people not permitted either entry to the country or to be aboard a plane using its airspace. The list, created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has been criticized by US civil rights groups, who say it is too broad and those on it have no chance to challenge their inclusion.

The plane had to turn back to Mexico after 90 minutes. Gutierrez, 48, was forced to leave the flight, which then resumed its journey to Spain. Almost all flights from Mexico to Europe cross US airspace.

Gutierrez, in a telephone interview from Mexico City, said she was arrested in 1992 and accused of involvement in an uprising against the Bolivian state as part of the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army. She was tortured and imprisoned in La Paz, and released without trial after five years. Bolivia dropped the charges in 2007.

“This is an abuse of power by the US. I think I am on a blacklist. What happened confirms I am on that list,” Gutierrez said.

She said the US should not be able to arbitrarily block passengers from flying over its airspace.

She had flown over the US at least 10 times without any similar incidents, including in January last year on the way back to Mexico from London.

Citing another example of inconsistency, she said her former husband has visited the US at least twice in his capacity as vice president, even though he had been arrested and jailed on the same charges, along with about a dozen others.

A spokesman for the US Transport Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security, set up after the Sept. 11 attacks to coordinate anti-terrorist actions, said: “The United States has the authority to deny access to US airspace. For security reasons, we will not discuss the details surrounding when or why access is denied.”

The US has a no-fly list containing about 8,500 names, as of last year. There is a further list, the terrorist watch list, which has about 400,000 names.

Gutierrez has written to the -airline involved, Aeromexico, asking why she was forced to leave the plane and whether the airline had shown its passenger list to the US for scrutiny. She has not received an answer.

She had been on her way to Rome for a conference to discuss Latin American social movements. She caught the Aeromexico flight in Mexico City on Wednesday last week. During the flight, the captain said he would be returning to Monterrey because US airspace had been closed off.

On arrival in Monterrey, she said she was told by police the US had refused to allow access because she was aboard. The airline told her it had an obligation to get her to Italy, but not across US airspace, and offered her an alternative route via Argentina.

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