US suspends all flights to Venezuela citing safety and security

The Department of Homeland Security made the announcement Wednesday.

May 15, 2019, 3:46 PM

U.S. flights to Venezuela are being suspended due to safety and security concerns, officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday.

The decision was made "based on the ongoing political instability and increased tensions in Venezuela and associated inadvertent risk to flight operations," officials said.

The suspension of flights will be revisited "if and when the conditions in Venezuela change," said officials.

American Airlines was the last U.S. commercial airline offering service in and out of Venezuela until the company suspended flights in March. Wednesday's suspension eliminates both commercial and cargo flights between the two countries.

Venezuela is in the midst of a months-long political crisis as Nicolas Maduro, the socialist president who has seized power and sidelined political opposition, has faced protests for weeks after the opposition-controlled National Assembly declared its president the legitimate leader.

That figure, Juan Guaido, is being backed by the U.S. and 53 other countries, including neighbors Colombia and Brazil, but Maduro's hold over the country's military and security forces remains strong. With Russian and Cuban backing, Maduro has managed to ride out increasingly strong U.S. diplomatic pressure that includes U.S. sanctions on the state-owned oil company as well as visa bans on Maduro and his senior aides.

With vocal American support, Guaido tried to spark a military uprising last month with calls for protests and a "final phase" of his push to oust Maduro. But the leader responded with force, putting down protests, and one month later he continues to cling to power.

The country has also been rocked by an economic crisis, with sky-high inflation and shortages of food and medicine. The U.S. has amassed aid across the border in Colombia and has urged Maduro to let it in, but he refuses, calling it a political ploy to undermine his rule.

The U.S. withdrew all remaining diplomatic personnel from the embassy in Venezuela in March, citing the "deteriorating situation" after days of blackouts, increased water shortages and the threat of further protests.

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