WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security announced on Wednesday the “immediate suspension” of commercial passenger and cargo flights between the United States and Venezuela.
“Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan determined that conditions in Venezuela threaten the safety and security of passengers, aircraft, and crew,” the department said in a statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assented to the suspension of flights based on McAleenan’s finding, while implementation of the measure is in the hands of the Department of Transportation.
“This determination is based on the ongoing political instability and increased tensions in Venezuela and associated inadvertent risk to flight operations,” according to the statement from Homeland Security.
The suspension will remain in effect until US officials deem that conditions in Venezuela have changed sufficiently to accommodate the resumption of flights, Homeland Security said.
American Airlines, the last major US carrier providing scheduled service to and from Venezuela, suspended flights indefinitely on March 28.
Texas-based AA had operated routes from Miami to Caracas and Maracaibo.
United and Delta halted service to Venezuela in 2017.
Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with the US in January, after Washington recognized Juan Guaido, speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as interim president of the oil-rich country.
The Venezuelan opposition, backed by the US and some Latin American governments, says that the May 2018 re-election of leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro was illegitimate.
The United States imposed sanctions on Venezuela in 2015, when Barack Obama was president, but Donald Trump sharply escalated the measures after taking office in January 2017.
More than 50 other countries have joined the US in recognizing Guaido, who was known to fewer than 20 percent of Venezuelans before he swore in as acting head of state.
Russia, China, India and Japan are among the group of nations that continue to acknowledge Maduro as Venezuela’s president.
Guaido has repeatedly called on the Venezuelan armed forces to rise up against Maduro, most recently on April 30, when the opposition leader went to a Caracas airbase with several dozen military defectors.
The uprising fizzled within hours.
Last weekend, Guaido said he had instructed his envoy in Washington to formally ask the US military for “cooperation” in ousting Maduro.
The Trump administration says that “all options are on the table” in the standoff with the Maduro regime.