US orders halt of air traffic to Venezuela

Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams delivers remarks at the Atlantic Council event, "Venezuela After Maduro: A Vision for the Country's Future" in Washington, DC on April 25, 2019 (State Department photo)

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday suspended all commercial passenger and cargo flights between the United States and Venezuela because of the political conditions in that South American nation.

In a release sent to the media, DHS said its recommendation was approved by the State Department and is being implemented by the Department of Transportation.

It is to take effect immediately.

“This determination is based on the ongoing political instability and increased tensions in Venezuela and associated inadvertent risk to flight operations,” DHS said in the statement. That includes the inability of the Transportation Safety Administration to conduct security assessments at Venezuelan airports, DHS said.

The announcement is the latest step by the Trump administration to squeeze Venezuela leader Nicolas Maduro. The Trump administration says Maduro is illegally holding office; it supports opposition leader Juan Guaido.

The impact of the announcement may be more symbolic than decisive.

American Airlines, the largest U.S. carrier serving Venezuela, suspended its flights to that nation in March. United Airlines ended its service last June.

Other international carriers, such as Air Canada and Lufthansa, ceased flights over payment issues and security concerns.

Copa Airlines, the flag carrier of Panama, still listed flights to Caracas as of Wednesday.

In April, the Federal Aviation Administration banned U.S. carriers from flying below 26,000 feet in Venezuela’s airspace.

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