Morphine, Weapons on U.S. Air Force Plane Trigger Complaint From Argentina

Relations between Argentina and the U.S. worsened after the South American country filed a complaint about a U.S. Air Force plane it says arrived in Buenos Aires with “suspicious” material for a police training exercise.

“So far neither the U.S. Embassy nor its government have given satisfactory explanations to clarify the presence of non- declared cargo,” the Foreign Ministry said in an e-mail statement last night. Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said the cargo on the plane, which arrived Feb. 10, included weapons, communications equipment and expired morphine.

Police and customs officials at the Buenos Aires-based international airport seized 1,000 cubic feet of material that wasn’t included on a list that the U.S. provided to the government in December, according to the Foreign Ministry. U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said the cargo was “fully coordinated” with Argentina.

The dispute over the military plane comes after President Barack Obama decided against visiting Argentina during his first South American trip next month and after diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, an organization that publishes secret documents on its website, suggested corruption among members of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s Cabinet.

Relations ‘Strained’

The plane’s cargo was to be used in a police course on hostage rescue, Timerman said on his Twitter account on Feb. 13. Argentines are sensitive about avoiding a third terrorist attack on their soil after bombings against Jewish targets in the early 1990s, Timerman said in an interview on CNN’s Spanish-language channel yesterday.

U.S. Representative Connie Mack, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said he thought the government of Argentina made “bogus” claims against the United States for domestic political reasons.

“I don’t think the idea that we’re smuggling weapons or drugs into Argentina is credible,” Mack, a Republican of Florida, said in an interview today. “This is just part of the playbook. You make an allegation against the United States and it helps you in your own election, your own country.”

When asked if the incident has damaged U.S.-Argentinian relations, Mack said, “I think the relations have been strained in the first place.”

Diego Guelar, a former Argentine ambassador to the U.S., said the government intentionally opened a new conflict with the U.S. in return for earlier disputes over Obama’s trip to the region, the WikiLeaks cables and a scandal over the arrival of a Venezuelan-American businessman with $800,000 in his suitcase in 2007.

“I think it’s childish, ridiculous, rude and unnecessary,” said Guelar, who currently advises the opposition party PRO on international affairs. “All the country should have done was leave the undeclared cargo on the plane until it could be sent back when the plane departs.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eliana Raszewski in Buenos Aires at eraszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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