Venezuela’s implosion continues.
Amid hyperinflation, massive unemployment, social unrest, political oppression and shortages of food and medicine, the South American nation is on the verge of general anarchy, a legacy of Hugo Chávez’s years of mismanagement, along with that of successor Nicolás Maduro.
So it’s hardly surprising that airlines such as Lufthansa and LATAM Airlines are crossing the country off their schedules.
The pair joins Air Canada, American Airlines and Alitalia which in recent years have scaled back or suspended Venezuelan operations, according to The Economist.
But it isn’t just unrest or political chaos that’s driving airlines to divert flights elsewhere.
Venezuela, seeking to avoid yet another devaluation of its currency or outright repudiation of debt, which would cut off credit to the ailing oil industry, has tightened currency controls introduced by Chávez in 2003.
The restrictions make it almost impossible for companies such as international airlines to convert the Venezuelan currency, bolívares, into dollars.
This has made it difficult for international airlines, who typically charge customers in local currencies, to repatriate their profits.
That isn’t surprising given that Chávez initially implemented currency controls after capital flight led to a devaluation of the currency.
“Lufthansa has written off the more than $100 million it says it is owed; LATAM says it is due $3 million,” according to The Economist. “The International Air Transport Association, the airlines’ trade body, estimates that Venezuela’s government is withholding $3.8 billion of airline revenues.”
A Lufthansa spokesman told Agence France-Presse that the country’s difficult economic situation and “the fact that is it is not possible to transfer foreign currency out of the country,” is behind the company’s decision.
Lufthansa is scheduled to quit service to the country this week; LATAM, Latin America’s largest airline group, has said it will stop flights to Venezuela by Aug. 1.
Contrast the current situation with that of 40 years ago, when Venezuela’s oil wealth attracted business travelers – and airlines – from all over the world.
At present, just a handful of foreign airlines continue to serve the troubled nation, including Air France and United Airlines.
But both are public companies and it seems unlikely either can or will stand for having their revenues tied up by a banana republic.
(Top: Air France plane show in foreground at Simon Bolivar Airport, near Caracas, Venezuela.)