By TONY SEED
(February 10, updated February 14) – It was inevitable. On Sunday, February 3, the day before the Lima Group countries met in Ottawa to fraudulently call for a “peaceful transition of power” in Venezuela and demand it allow a puppet parallel government to accept its “humanitarian aid”, a Boeing 767 took off from Miami International Airport loaded with warfare equipment. It landed at the Arturo Michelena International Airport in the northern city of Valencia, Venezuela’s third-largest city, and some 170 kilometres directly west of the capital, Caracas.
The nondescript, 32-year-old heavy lifter aircraft, one of just two aircraft owned by an obscure American-registered air freight company, 21 Air LLC, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, brought high-powered weaponry for use ostensibly by the “democratic” opponents of the government of Nicolas Maduro.
The aircraft landed, unloaded, and then took off. It then flew from Valencia to Medellín in northwest Colombia before returning to Miami on Thursday February 7. The Medellín-Miami route is one of the busiest international routes in Colombia.
Steffan Watkins of Ottawa, an IT specialist who uses a flight tracking service to analyze unusual movements of aircraft and ships on Twitter, documents that the Boeing 767 made dozens of flights between Miami International Airport and destinations in Colombia and Venezuela since January 11, often returning to Miami for only a few hours before flying again to South America:
- Miami to Caracas (CCS) Jan 11, 16, 18, Feb 05
- Miami to Valencia Jan 15, 21, 30, Feb 03
- Miami to Bogota Jan 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, Feb 02, 03, 04
- Miami to Medellín Feb 06
The clandestine flights occurred amid wild accusations such as Venezuela’s sponsoring of terrorism and the appointment of former assistant secretary of state Elliott Abrams by President Donald Trump late last month as his special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela. Abrams was at the centre of the Central Intelligence Agency’s globe hopping weapons transport cargo planes of the Iran-Contra scandal during the 1980s. The unrepentant war criminal Abrams was one of those convicted of breaking US law for his role in the shipment of weapons to US proxy forces in Nicaragua. 
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations, operators, transporting dangerous goods forbidden for transportation by air by civil aircrafts, must apply for exemption for transportation of dangerous goods by air. Under IATA regulations, the transport of military cargo by civil aircraft is not allowed. In addition, arms export, which includes both guns and the radios, without a specific license in a crime.
On Tuesday February 5, the Venezuelan National Guard seized the assault weapons at the airport in a routine customs check carried out by the National Integrated Service of Customs and Tax Administration [SENIAT], according to a statement by the Carabobo state governor’s office. American arms have been embargoed from Venezuela since 2006.
Some of the rifles included stands for long-range targeting and sniping. According to a detailed report from the Washington bureau of McClatchy News, quoting the governor’s statement, the contraband shipment included 15 AR-15 assault weapons, a Micro Draco semi-automatic pistol with a jumbo magazine, a Colt 7.62 rifle and two telescopic sights. Along with 118 ammunition cartridges, and 90 wireless military-grade radio antennas, the discovery also netted four rifle stands, three rifle scopes and six iPhones. The air cargo company’s website says that the Boeing 767 has a payload capacity of 42 tons. What else was carried or unloaded if anything has not been revealed, nor what was unloaded at the freight terminal in Medellín, Colombia,
A senior Venezuelan security official, Bolivarian National Guard Gen. Endes Palencia Ortiz, who is the nation’s vice minister of citizen security, displayed the weaponry at a new conference on open-air tables draped in red cloth. 
19 fusiles 118 cargadores de fusil 4 porta fusil 3 miras para fusil 90 antenas de radio 6 teléfonos fueron hallados en el patio de almacenamiento del aeropuerto de Valencia los cuales ingresaron al país el
#3Feb en el Air Bus N881YV procedente de Miami,EEUU #5Feb
Gen Endes Palencia Ortiz, said the weapons were destined to reach the hands of groups looking to destabilize the country. “This materiel was destined for criminal groups and terrorist actions in the country, financed by the fascist extreme right and the government of the United States,” Gen Palencia Ortiz was quoted as saying. He did not reveal whether or not earlier shipments had also been seized but not hitherto publicized by the authorities but said that the information was now in the hands of a national prosecutor.
According to the dry affirmations of the General, 21 Air is a shadow entity that actually moves contractors to serve the “false beards” of Uncle Sam and, consequently, the interests of their puppet exponent, Juan Guaidò.
“Our government, led by our commander Nicolás Maduro Moros, is establishing all the security mechanisms to bring peace and tranquility to our people, carrying out all the tasks that our citizen security bodies, our Bolivarian National Armed Forces and all of them are carrying out. the institutions in defence of our people, to guarantee security, the integral defence of the nation and our freedom and independence,” he affirmed.
Air 21: ‘Then all of a sudden in January, things changed’
McClatchy News reported the following information on February 7:
“The freight company, begun five years ago, operates two cargo planes, a Boeing 747 and a Boeing 767, according to the 21 Air website. The Boeing 767, a 32-year-old aircraft once flown by the now defunct Brazilian carrier Varig, carries the registration N-881-YV and is the aircraft that landed in Valencia on Feb. 3.
“The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent through its website. The cellular phone of the company’s chief executive, Michael Mendez, had a recording Thursday afternoon that said it could not accept calls.
“An Ottawa-based analyst of unusual ship and plane movements, Steffan Watkins, drew attention to the frequent flights of the 21 Air cargo plane in a series of tweets Thursday.
“‘All year, they were flying between Philadelphia and Miami and all over the place, but all continental U.S.,’ Watkins said in a telephone interview. ‘Then all of a sudden in January, things changed.’
“That’s when the cargo plane began flying to destinations in Colombia and Venezuela on a daily basis, and sometimes multiple times a day, Watkins said. The plane has made close to 40 round-trip flights from Miami International Airport to Caracas and Valencia in Venezuela, and Bogota and Medellín in Colombia since Jan. 11.
“Flight records from the tracking site flightradar24.com, monitored by Watkins, indicate that the 21 Air cargo plane flew at least four times to Valencia from Miami and another four times to Caracas from Miami since Jan. 11. In many cases, the flights would head on to Bogota or Medellín before returning to Miami.
“The most recent tracking of the aircraft showed it arrived from Medellín into Miami airport after midnight Thursday.
“The aircraft in question has passed through many hands since Varig took delivery of it in 1987. In 2004, it was passed to GE Capital Aviation Services, a leasing company that is part of the General Electric conglomerate, according to an operator history on the planespotters.net website. Tampa Cargo, Avianca Cargo and Dynamic Airways later controlled the aircraft until 21 Air received it in 2014.
“Questions about whom the arms shipment was destined for, if the Venezuelan version of events is true, can only mount. Delivery at a commercial airport would indicate that somebody with authority there would have had a hand.” (TS note – The Aeropuerto de Valencia is a relatively small airport, where access to aircraft and hence the loading and unloading of cargo is from the tarmac. A satellite map is here.)
In a follow-up report on February 8, McClatchy further informed about shady “coincidental or direct ties” between the chairman and majority owner of 21 Air, Adolfo Moreno, and a key employee of 21 Air, Michael Steinke, its director of quality control, with Gemini Air Cargo – a company that Amnesty International described in a 2006 report (pay attention to the plane part) once took part in a CIA program to whisk suspected terrorists to “black site” jails around the world, a procedure known as rendition. Gemini operated five aircraft in the program. Thirty air charter services were said believed to have taken part in the CIA operation – it also involved multiple flights through airports in Newfoundland and Montreal; suspected terrorists were abducted abroad and taken to third-country secret “black sites” for interrogation.  Interestingly, the Miami offices of Gemini are now used by Avianca, the national airline of Colombia.
Moreno is also the majority owner of 21 Cargo, a global air cargo integration and booking service, which was established in 1999. The company has also had a web of affiliated companies over the years with names such as JW Aviation, Apple Aviation and Conaire. The company 21 Cargo used to be known as Solar Cargo or Solar Air, and was affiliated with a cargo company by the same name that was started in Valencia, Venezuela in February 2001. The Mockingbird website further informs that “JW Aviation does list 21 Air, 21 Cargo, and Solar Air first on its website amongst its customers. The other listed customers include Avianica and the Air Forces of Brazil and Columbia. The Boeing 767-241 model is a specific model made by Boeing exclusively for the now defunct airline Varig in Brazil. A total of nine were built.”
Adding to the intrigue, 21 Air has lawyered up. It is now asserting that its aircraft were leased by another company, GPS Air of Miami, for the preceding three weeks. Its lawyer, Alberto N Moris, stated that “All of the cargo on board our aircraft was from the GPS-Air, who chartered the aircraft.”
In other words, as Steffan Watkins points out, 21 Air affirms that the flight did go to Venezuela on February 3, 2019 – as the Venezuelan authorities stated – yet they were “wet-leasing” their aircraft to GPS-air.
Moreover, “wet leasing” is a formula that exempts the parent company of responsibility for the nature of the cargo and the general conduct of the shipment. It seems a formula made to facilitate Byzantine arms trades, but there is no confirmation as yet. Lawyer Moris further states “GPS-Air has been the only company that has chartered it for the last few weeks to Valencia, Venezuela,” that is, GPS-Air is the only company who has flown to Valencia with their plane, and they have been chartering the plane for three weeks. Facts are facts.
What is even more suspect is how the US Senator Marco Rubio of Miami immediately lept into the fire. Here is his laughable tweet – issued on February 7th: the Cubans did it! And by financing a US shell company and this entire operation to boot!:
All the signs of
#Cuba directed misinformation campaign: -Use shell company to pay for suspicious flights; -On day aid arrives at border stage the discovery of guns on flight; -Now Maduro will say he’s blocking aid to prevent gun smuggling
3:57 PM – 7 Feb 2019
In other words, the extraordinary Cuban intelligence with a bottomless budget organized all this. An hour’s rental of the tarmac at the Miami airport alone costs between $400-1,000 an hour. It did so weeks before the crowning of Guaidò by US Vice-President Mike Pence on January 22nd and the ensuing aid hoax at a border bridge that has been closed since 2016. More seriously, Rubio involuntarily admits that terrorists (“shell company”, i.e, GPS Air) are based in Miami.
Floridans are not such fools to believe this diversion. Facts remain facts. Steffan Watkins informs that Air 21 started “flying under a new contact with a new customer January 11th, and since then have been flying almost exclusively to Colombia and Venezuela.” In summary, since January 11th, 21 Air LLC – leased to GPS-Air – flew every single day from Miami to Venezuela or Colombia, sometimes both:
- 9x Miami (MIA) to Bogota (BOG)
- 4x Miami (MIA) to Caracas (CCS)
- 2x Miami (MIA) to Medellin (MDE)
- 4x Miami (MIA) to Valencia (VLN)
- 1x Miami (OPF) to Bogota (BOG)
- 14x Bogota (BOG) to Miami
- 7x Medellin (MDE) to Miami
The Venezuelans published the name of the suspect flight and laid out the spread of guns from the aircraft on February 5th.The first McClatchy report was published in the United States on February 7th. The flights abruptly stopped on February 7th. Unfortunately, with 21 Air passing the buck to GPS Air, the trail has gone dead there. McClatchy seems to have dropped the story like a hot potato.
The “innocent, peaceful victims”
There is no doubt that the US is arming its proxy force in Venezuela, falsely portrayed by the US and Canadian governments and the media in their service as “innocent, peaceful victims” of a “dictatorship,” regardless of the facts. Julio Borges, representative of Juan Guaidò and invited participant in the Ottawa meeting of the Lima Group, who has been in hiding in Colombia, stated in an interview on February 4 with CBC’s Power & Politics that foreign military intervention was welcomed, saying he is “pro any measure that could bring Venezuela liberty.” On February 9, Guaidò stressed that he would not rule out authorizing a US military intervention, whenever the term “authorizing” means in the case of the “interim president” appointed from Washington. CNN has published a “story” of so-called Venezuelan soldiers calling for US weapons featuring actors in non-Venezuelan uniforms.
One does not need a “smoking gun” to “prove” criminality and premeditation as the “true believers” demand.
It is no mystery that over the years, the Venezuelan government has discovered large scale caches of arms stockpiled in opposition-controlled facilities and that there have been repeated assassination attempts of its president and other officials, most recently and most seriously on August 4, 2018 through an armed drone attack. In 2014 an arms cache, including automatic rifles and mortars, was discovered in an opposition-controlled municipality underground parking lot; another cache of 2,000 mortars and other weapons was found in Táchira, a frontier state bordering Colombia and an opposition stronghold. Over half of the 68 National Guardsmen injured in protests by “students” were shot by opposition snipers. On March 16, 2014 a Captain of the Guard was assassinated by a sniper holed up in a high rise. The assassin was captured – a Chinese mercenary hired by the opposition as part of a para-military hit team. Each time, the US government and the media in its service attempted to divert, by ridiculing and dismissing the assassinations as mere “claims” by Venezuela.
On the same day of the Venezuelan announcement of the seizure of contraband arms shipment, as if by pure coincidence, Colombia and the US launched a massive social media campaign featuring photographs said to be truckloads of US “aid” or whatever else the trucks are carrying into the country, claiming the Maduro government is blocking them. They were fuelled by tweets issued by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sen Marco Rubio on February 6. In the “story”, the Venezuelan military placed a fuel tanker, two cargo trailers and makeshift fencing near the border town of Cucuta in Colombia. Photos flashed around the world happen to be of the Toenditas bridge on the Colombia-Venezuela border that has never been officially opened for use since it was completed in 2016. It does not have customs, immigration or health inspection stations set up. There are two other functioning bridges in the area, six kilometres distant. Many people from Venezuela cross them every day. But that information is never part of the “story.” President Maduro called this effort a “fake humanitarian assistance” designed to “humiliate” the country and “justify a military aggression.”
In a similar vein, furious speculation is viral on social media on the quality and firepower of the weapons seized in Valencia and the relative competence or incompetence of the American company and Venezuela customs. The fact that the amount of arms seized is not a large amount – just enough to equip an assassination squad – is being used to ridicule the Venezuelans; that professionals would have dropped the weapons into the jungle with a GPS homing device rather than landing at a commercial airport. But McClatchy and other articles leave out that Gen Endes Palencia Ortiz of the Bolivarian National Guard also stated the aircraft was bringing military contractors. This is in the Spanish language press.
The Venezuelan government seems to be openly prepared for all possibilities, including facing US military intervention. On February 10, the country’s military kicked off large-scale military drills, which will run until February 15. According to President Nicolas Maduro, the drills are set to become the biggest ones the country has held in its 200-year history. Separately, President Maduro announced the setting up of 50,000 “popular defence units” and promised that the US will get a South American “Vietnam War” if it decides to invade.
Along with the vigilant Venezuelans, what emerges is the action of individuals such as Steffan Watkins of Ottawa, who did all the tracking of the covert flights of this aircraft over the three weeks. Check out his Twitter feed. His investigative work shows the significance of verifiable fact, that this is not the 1980s of the Contra period when such investigation would have been impossible, and that people can make a difference. This is what the military and police power fears most.
The substantive issue remains that Venezuela is a sovereign country. The Maduro government has the right to secure and exercise control over who and what enters its territory.
UPDATE – February 14
21 Air LLC Boeing 767 N881YV flew Miami to Medellin (MDE) and back again Feb 11 & Feb 12th, with matching sequential call signs, which strongly indicates they are still flying for GPS-Air. cc:
1. Abrams later gave the green light to the attempted coup d’état of the popular government of Hugo Chávez in 2002, was involved in the planning of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and who then joined the board of the National Endowment for Democracy, which has funnelled millions of dollars to the opponents of the Venezuelan government.
2. Additional photos may be seen in a Valencia news blog here.
3. See also detailed website of The Rendition Project maintained by the University of Kent here. It is also conceivable that the rendition flights were part of regular clandestine CIA flights moving agents and cargo around.