Attending U.S. request, Itamaraty diplomat asked judges to free American pilots
Roberto Maltchik and Paulo Marqueiro
BRASÍLIA and RIO - The United States made use of Brazilian diplomats to pressure the Judiciary to allow American pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino - who piloted the Legacy jet when the aircraft collided with the Gol Boeing, on September 29, 2006, in Mato Grosso - to be freed to return to their country. In the accident, until then the worst in Brazilian commercial aviation, 154 people died, among passengers and crew of Flight 1907.
Documents sent by the American Embassy in Brasilia to the Department of State in the US, released by the WikiLeaks group, detail the moves to hurry the pilots' return home. In a confidential telegram of November 17, 2006, American Embassy counselor Phillip Chicola relays Consul-General Simon Henshaw's request to the director of the Department of Brazilian Overseas Communities, ambassador Manoel Gomes Pereira, to take to the judges of the Regional Federal Tribunal for the 3rd Region "our concerns" about the pilots situation:
"Our lawyer suggests that, if the pilots' appeal were to be rejected, we consider a discreet approach to the Minister (sic) of Justice, asking that he (sic) make contract with the Superior Tribunal"
"Ambassador Pereira said that he would bring our concerns to the Court which is analyzing the pilots' request to leave Brazil. He said that he will do this orally, because he fears that a formal written communication could generate a reaction against the pilots", said Chicola.
Exactly a week later, Chicola sent a new telegram, this time to say that the Brazilian diplomat had sent the message. However, Gomes Pereira warned that repeating this kind of contact could harm the pilots:
"Ambassador Manoel Gomes Pereira called CG November 21 to say he had contacted two of the justices hearing the pilots' appeal and passed on our concerns. He advised that no further action be taken until the ruling as the justices were sensitive to outside pressure. Chicola"
O GLOBO had access to nine telegrams, five of them confidential, leaked by WikiLeaks on the theme. The documents showed that there was fear that the Americans would be detained for a long period. At the time of the behind-the-scene maneuvers, society already knew that Paladino and Lepore were traveling in Brazilian air space with the transponder - a device that shows a dangerously close approach between two aircraft - turned off. It was also public that they were at the wrong altitude in relation to the flight plan.
On December 1st, ambassador Clifford Sobel relates, in another confidential message, that the "confused Brazilian legal procedure" makes the decision "slower than it should be". He reaffirmed that new actions to pressure the judges could be ill-interpreted. However, he bets on a "courtesy visit" to the Brazilian Embassy in Washington in search of government support for freeing the pilots."
"The embassy is not opposed to Washington approaching the Brazilian embassy, since this could be portrayed as a courtesy visit and not as additional pressure."
However, Sobel prepared the Department of State for an eventual defeat in the TRF.
He reveals that the lawyer for the American pilots believes that, in this case, he will win in the Superior Tribunal of Justice (STJ). The Ambassador reminds Washington that the lawyer is Théo Dias, son of ex-minister of Justice José Carlos Dias.
"The pilots' lawyer (son of an ex-Minister of Justice) believes that if he fails at the federal court he will win at the instance above, the Superior Tribunal of Justice. Our lawyer suggest that, if the pilots' appeal is rejected, to consider a discreet approach to the minister [sic] of Justice, asking that he [sic] contact the Superior Tribunal", said Sobel in the telegram.
The same telegram reveals that Sobel shared with the Department of State his frustration with the manner in which the investigations of the case were being conducted.But he warns that it would be better to wait for the pilots to leave to only after criticize the fact.
On December 5, the TRF conceded the habeas corpus, which guaranteed to Paladino and Lepore the right to return to the US. The Court's three judges understood that the law does not provide for restricting the liberty to come and go of foreigners. It is not possible to know, in the midst of the telegrams revealed by WikiLeaks, if the American pressure influenced the Judiciary's decision.
The pilots left the country on December 8, 2006, after having being charged by the Federal Police based on Article 261 of the Criminal Code (expose to danger a ship or aircraft, one's own or another's.).
Opinion of the opposition and of society
"(The Lula government) can maintain an important program of income redistribution, but it is absolutely incapable of dealing with major structural problems, which has resulted in six months of aviation chaos."
Among the numerous updated reports on the aviation chaos - always punctuated with references to the behavior of society in relation to the pilots' responsibility in the Gol Boeing tragedy - what stands out is a long conversation between American diplomats and Congressman ACM Neto (DEM-Bahia). After registering the opposition congressman's heavy criticisms of policies for meeting the crisis, Sober affirms that the congressman reinforces the conviction that the Lula government continued to suffer "from a profound lack of competence in executive decisions":
"It (the government) can maintain an important income distribution program, but is absolutely incapable of dealing with large structural problems, which has resulted in six months of aviation chaos. In a country the size of Brazil, where air travel is essential, this represents an enormous leadership failure by Lula", the United States Ambassador affirmed.