Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s currency controls have forced a European budget airline to suspend ticket sales from the Latin American nation due to difficulties converting Venezuela’s volatile bolivar to U.S. dollars.
Air Europa, a cut-rate Spanish airline, has issued an “indefinite” suspension of sales in Venezuela, since the country has not been exchanging its bolivars for U.S. dollars as is customary.
The move took a number of Venezuelans by surprise, partticularly considering flights from Caracas to Spain still had many seats open.
''The reservation people told me that I could buy the ticket in dollars or euros, but not bolivars,'' Venezuelan traveler Javier Martinez told USA Today. "I'm Venezuelan and what other money do I have?"
Maduro tightened control of the foreign exchange system in Venezuela in November in an attempt to fight what he calls an "economic war" being waged against his government.
Maduro is creating a centralized agency to administer the nation's dollars to ensure the supply of needed imports and prevent speculation by those he refers to as the "parasitic bourgeoisie."
He is also creating a joint civilian-military task force of inspectors that will be given the job of stamping out what the government alleges is price gouging and the hoarding by businesses of scarce goods like toilet paper and milk.
Since Maduro took over leadership of the country from the late Hugo Chavez in April, inflation in Venezuela has soared to 49 percent while the bolivar has plunged on the black market to one-sixth of its official value.
Air Europa also isn’t the first airline to take safeguards in Venezuela. Ticket from American Airlines, Aeromexico and Colombia’s Avianca all became more difficult to obtain following Bank of America and Goldman Sachs forecasting that Venezuela would devalue the bolivar.
Avianca reduced sales in Venezuela to $17 million in September from a monthly average of $50 million earlier that year, Vice President of Treasury Maria Cecilia Escallon said, according to Bloomberg.
The loss of flights comes as many Venezuelans attempt to take advantage of loopholes in the foreign exchange regulations that allow them to buy dollars abroad with their bolivars.
Dollars have become so scarce in this oil-rich nation plagued by economic woes, including one of the world's highest inflation rates, that they fetch on the black market more than seven times the official exchange rate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.