Colombia’s largest airline Avianca, which had originally said that it will cease flying to and from Venezuela beginning on August 16, has announced that it is now suspending all flights to the country immediately. The change was based upon “operational and security limitations,” according to the Bogotá-based carrier.
Tickets are no longer being sold for any travel, marking the first time in more than 60 years that Avianca has not operated flights to Venezuela. The airline stated that it will attempt to help already-ticketed passengers travel to Caracas on another airline “based on availability.” Anyone whose reservations cannot be transferred to a different carrier will have their payments fully reimbursed, said Avianca in a statement.
The company’s top executive called the move a “difficult decision” while citing safety concerns and operational difficulties in his original comments. Throughout the year, and especially in recent weeks, there has been rising instability in the country, where food shortages have become constant and more than 100 people have died this year during near-daily protests against President Nicolas Maduro.
Avianca has informed regional aviation authorities it will be shutting down two routes that connect the Venezuelan capital to the capitals of Colombia and Peru. The carrier will cease both its twice-daily flight between Bogotá and Caracas as well as its daily flight between Lima and Caracas, stated Avianca.
“After more than 60 years of continuous service in Venezuela, at Avianca we regret that we had to arrive at this difficult decision, but our responsibility is to guarantee the safety of operations,” said Hernán Rincon, chief executive of Avianca.
In his initial comments, Rincon stressed that the airline is willing to resume flights to Caracas if the “required conditions” for operations re-emerge. In its statement, Avianca noted that Venezuela currently is failing to meet international standards and needs to improve its airport infrastructure.
Delta Airlines, later the same day, announced that it would also stop flying to Venezuela. Though it only operates one flight per week to the country, from Atlanta to Caracas, it will end that route after September 16.
According to Airways magazine, this will leave American Airlines as the only U.S. carrier still flying to Venezuela. In addition to Avianca and Delta, according to the publication, United, Air Canada, Aeromexico, LATAM, Alitalia, Lufthansa, GOL, Insel Air, and Dynamic have also cancelled routes to the country.
Avianca’s original announcement came on the same day that the United States levied sanctions against 13 current and former officials of the Venezuelan government. Through the U.S. Treasury Department, all assets under U.S. jurisdiction held by the 13 individuals have been frozen, and U.S. citizens are now prohibited from dealing with them.
The agency’s sanctions come less than a week before Maduro’s planned election on Sunday to field the group that will form the National Constituent Assembly that “will have the power to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution and may choose to dissolve Venezuelan state institutions.“ Those named in the decree, according ot the Treasury Department, are current or former officials in agencies “associated with the elections or the undermining of democracy,” including the “government’s rampant violence against opposition protesters” and general corruption.
“As President Trump has made clear, the United States will not ignore the Maduro regime’s ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom, and the rule of law,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “As our sanctions demonstrate, the United States is standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy. Anyone elected to the National Constituent Assembly should know that their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential U.S. sanctions.”