US suspends all passenger, cargo flights to Venezuela

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The Trump administration suspended all commercial passenger and cargo flights to Venezuela on Wednesday in light of worsening safety conditions, recent social unrest and political turmoil engulfing the South American nation.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan determined that “conditions in Venezuela threaten the safety and security of passengers, aircraft, and crew," according to a DHS statement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approved the suspension and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao implemented it.

“This determination is based on the ongoing political instability and increased tensions in Venezuela and associated inadvertent risk to flight operations,” the statement said.

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Most U.S.-based airlines already stopped flying to Venezuela because of security concerns in and around its airports. American Airlines was the last to halt its operations in March after the State Department warned travelers to stay away from the country. Delta Airlines suspended flights to Venezuela in 2017.

In April, the Federal Aviation Administration banned pilots from flying below 26,000 feet in Venezuelan airspace.

Earlier this year, the State Department ordered all nonessential staff at the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela to leave the country, a day after President Nicolas Maduro said he was giving diplomats 72 hours to leave.

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Wednesday’s announcement came as Venezuelans have continued to clash in the streets with military and police in nationwide protests. The oil-rich nation has been beset with rising inflation and shortages of food and medicine.

More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years.

Maduro has been fighting to stay in power in the midst of growing opposition and international pressure for him to step down. National Assembly president Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s leader some months ago and is recognized as the interim president by at least 50 nations, including the U.S.

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In an effort to put more pressure on Maduro, the Trump administration last week expanded sanctions on Venezuela to its defense and security services sectors, Reuters reported.

The Department of Homeland Security said the suspension will remain in effect until conditions in Venezuela improve.

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