AS MAJOR airlines cut their routes in and out of this country, it’s facing the prospect of being cut off from the rest of the world.
WITH its spectacular Caribbean coastline, vibrant cities and world famous Angel Falls, Venezuela should be a dream holiday spot.
Lately, it’s been anything but. Extreme violence, corruption, poverty and a currency meltdown have turned Venezuela — formerly South America’s wealthiest nation — into a dysfunctional, dangerous mess, where only the most intrepid of backpackers dare venture.
Now it’s has been dealt a fresh blow, and one that could wipe it off the travel map for good.
Dozens of airlines have stopped flying in and out of the troubled South American nation due to concerns over violence and political uncertainty.
Just days after it emerged the Venezuelan bolivar was so worthless people had started trading with ham, Argentine Airlines announced it was suspending flights to the capital Caracas, citing “operational reasons”.
It followed similar moves by US airlines United and Delta, Germany’s Lufthansa, Air Canada, Aeromexico, Alitalia and Colombian airline Avianca, among a swathe of other carriers.
That leaves only a small handful of airlines still flying people in and out of Venezuela, providing the country’s last, tenuous links to the rest of the world.
But even those airlines are showing signs of worry. While Panama carrier Copa Airlines denied it would abandon its Venezuelan route, it said it still wouldn’t let its crew stay overnight in Venezuelan cities, AFP reported.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Venezuela was becoming increasingly isolated.
“The situation has become increasingly difficult, most of IATA’s members have left Venezuela,” the association’s vice president Peter Cerda said.
“There are only six or seven carriers left operating a very low flight frequency.
“Venezuela is becoming disconnected. It’s practically disconnected from the rest of the world, above all by air, and we can’t see any solution in the short term.”
Unpaid government contracts have also deterred airlines from servicing Venezuela, the BBC reports.
And not helping matters is that despite its natural beauty, its reputation for violence and political upheaval has made Venezuela one of the least-visited countries in South America, attracting only slightly more tourists a year than little-known Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana.
Venezuela’s annual visitor numbers have plummeted every year since 2013, according to the World Bank.
In 2015, only 789,000 people visited the country. Even neighboring Colombia,itself a notorious danger zone, saw a much more respectable 3.32 million visitors that year.
Venezuela’s 2017 visitor numbers are expected to be even lower.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade urges Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Venezuela “due to high levels of serious crime, ongoing political uncertainty, food shortages and ongoing problems with local currency”. Australians are advised to completely avoid areas of Venezuela within 80 kilometres of Colombia due to gangs and terrorist groups.
DFAT also warns those airlines continuing to travel to Venezuela “could withdraw services at any time”.
It’s been a spectacular fall from grace for the picturesque, oil-rich country, which was once the great socialist dream of former leader Hugo Chavez.
Chavez’s leadership was accused of abuse of power and economic mismanagement but since his death in 2013, and with the tumbling price of oil, the country has continued to unravel under the current leader Nicolas Maduro.
The ABC’s Foreign Correspondent visited Venezuela this year and found a country terrorised by murderous gangs, where pitiful food rations forced people to eat garbage and where essential items were in such short supply, people used cash as toilet paper because it was cheaper.
“This is a country with more oil than Saudi Arabia and yet you see people searching through piles of garbage for food, and people surviving by lining up once a week for their weekly food rations, which may only be two small bags of flour,” journalist Eric Campbell told news.com.au.
“They can’t get medicine. Mothers can’t get nappies.
“It’s also incredibly violent. We were told not to walk down the street unless we had to and not to go out at night.
“I was once using my iPhone at the hotel entrance and the translator yelled out and said, ‘Put that away, if people see you’ve got a phone they’ll kill you for that’.”
This week it emerged Venezuela was dangerously close to running out of cash, with the bolivar continuing to crash as inflation climbed up the triple figures.
At the start of 2017, one US dollar was worth 4578 bolivars on Venezuela’s black market. By October, one US dollar was worth a massive 29,170 bolivars, according to black market rate tracker DolarToday.
Analysts say Venezuela’s inflation could surpass 1000 per cent by the end of 2017