Major airlines jump Venezuela’s careening flight path

Venezuelan students shout at a rally to demand changes to university funding. Economic problems have led to airlines such as Lufthansa suspending flights to Caracas. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

Venezuelan students shout at a rally to demand changes to university funding. Economic problems have led to airlines such as Lufthansa suspending flights to Caracas. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

Two major airlines said on consecutive days that they would suspend all flights to one-time South African political darling Venezuela for an indefinite period, in the latest indicator of just how deep that country’s crisis has become.

Latin America’s biggest airline, Latam, said on Monday it would suspend its flights “due to the complex macroeconomic situation that the region is currently going through”.

The previous day, German airline Lufthansa said it would halt flights to Venezuela because of “the difficult economic situation and the fact that is it is not possible to transfer foreign currency out of the country”.

Latam is cutting the three major routes it operates to Caracas: from Sao Paulo in Brazil, Lima in Peru and Santiago in Chile. The Sao Paulo flight was suspended on May 28 and the other two routes will end by August 1.

Lufthansa is suspending its flights between Frankfurt and Caracas from June 17. 

Both companies said they would reinstate the services when conditions allowed, but would not speculate on when that might be.

Other airlines have limited service to Venezuela, and some are requiring passengers to pay for tickets in United States dollars.

Coca-Cola recently said it would halt the production of some of its drinks in the country because of a shortage of sugar, and tyre company Bridgestone announced it was selling its business in Venezuela after more than 60 years of operation.

The International Monetary Fund has forecast that Venezuela’s economy will shrink by 8% this year and another 4.5% next year, when inflation is expected to exceed 1 642%.

The country has seen shortages of food, fuel and medicine, as well as sporadic rioting and looting attributed to the shortage of basic necessities. 

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema actively modelled his party along the lines laid down by longtime Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. Malema made a “study trip” to Venezuela in 2010, while he was still leader of the ANC Youth League. 

The ruling party has continued to sing the praises of Chavez and his “pro-poor” re-engineering of his country’s economy, while occasionally accusing the US and its allies of conspiring to destroy Venezuela. — Additional reporting by AFP

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