Foreign airlines stop selling tickets in Venezuelan currency

Thomas Lifson
Venezuela's economic implosion is creating yet another crisis for the Marxist regime. Ever since the late Hugo Chavez instituted drastic foreign exchange restrictions, the difference between the official value of the nation's currency, the bolivar, and the actual free (or "black") market value has skyrocketed. Currently, you can get 64 bolivars for the dollar on the streets of Caracas, while the official rate is a tenth of that, or 6.3 bolivars. Even worse, foreign corporations such as airlines, which hold bolivars received from Venezuelan consumers, are prevented from converting them into hard currencies, such as the dollar, because that would drain away what little foreign exchange the country has, despite being a major oil exporter.

As a result, foreign airlines flying into Venezuela have a total of $2.6 billion (at official exchange rates) being held hostage in Venezuela. And they are sick and tired of being unable to bring the money home to pay for things like airplanes, staff, and other non-Venezuelan expenses, including fuel purchased outside the country. So, they are quietly making it impossible to buy tickets on their carriers paid for in blovars.

Anatoly Kurmanaev and Christine Jenkins of Bloomberg report:

Tickets from American Airlines (AAL) Inc., Grupo Aeromexico SAB and Avianca Holdings SA (AVH) among others have become harder to buy in Venezuela since September, as tighter currency controls make it more difficult for companies to convert bolivars into dollars. The shortage of greenbacks to fund imports of goods and services led the bolivar to decline 73 percent this year in the black market.

Airlines have the equivalent of $2.6 billion locked in the country at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, according to the International Air Transport Association. They don't want to increase exposure to a currency that investment banks from Bank of America Corp. to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. say will be devalued for the eighth time in 11 years, said Helane Becker, airlines analyst at Cowen & Co LLC.

"I went to 10 air companies and agents all over town and everywhere I received the same answer that no tickets were available," said [Gladys] Varela, who works at a beauty salon in Caracas. "Looks like I won't see my daughter [in Mexico] this year."

Tickets from American Airlines (AAL) Inc., Grupo Aeromexico SAB and Avianca Holdings SA (AVH) among others have become harder to buy in Venezuela since September, as tighter currency controls make it more difficult for companies to convert bolivars into dollars. The shortage of greenbacks to fund imports of goods and services led the bolivar to decline 73 percent this year in the black market.

Airlines have the equivalent of $2.6 billion locked in the country at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, according to the International Air Transport Association. They don't want to increase exposure to a currency that investment banks from Bank of America Corp. to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. say will be devalued for the eighth time in 11 years, said Helane Becker, airlines analyst at Cowen & Co LLC.

"I went to 10 air companies and agents all over town and everywhere I received the same answer that no tickets were available," said Varela, who works at a beauty salon in Caracas. "Looks like I won't see my daughter this year."

Like the 59-year-old mom, a reporter for Bloomberg News unsuccessfully tried six times from Nov. 14 to Nov 25 to buy tickets with local currency from American Airlines, Aeromexico and Avianca.

Here is an official Venezuelan govenrment list (dating from October) of what foreign airlines are currently owed:

Presumably to avoid political retaliation, the airlines have not made an announcement that bolivars are now funny money and worthless for buying airline tickets, they are merely saying that seats are unavailable when people try to use the funny money.

At an Aeromexico office in Caracas, the Bloomberg reporter was told on Nov. 21 that sales were suspended until Jan. 7 because of a software update. On that same day in Bogota, a reporter was able to book a ticket quoted in Colombian pesos for an Aeromexico flight leaving Caracas the next day.

So for Venezuelans with relatives abroad, or who need to travel overseas on business, or who just want to escape the grim realities of life under Marxism, their native currency is now virtually worthless.

The tragic irony is that Venezuela is inherently wealthy: blessed with huge oil supplies and a land capable of producing almost everything. It takes Marxism to create shortages and strangle economic growth.

Venezuela's economic implosion is creating yet another crisis for the Marxist regime. Ever since the late Hugo Chavez instituted drastic foreign exchange restrictions, the difference between the official value of the nation's currency, the bolivar, and the actual free (or "black") market value has skyrocketed. Currently, you can get 64 bolivars for the dollar on the streets of Caracas, while the official rate is a tenth of that, or 6.3 bolivars. Even worse, foreign corporations such as airlines, which hold bolivars received from Venezuelan consumers, are prevented from converting them into hard currencies, such as the dollar, because that would drain away what little foreign exchange the country has, despite being a major oil exporter.

As a result, foreign airlines flying into Venezuela have a total of $2.6 billion (at official exchange rates) being held hostage in Venezuela. And they are sick and tired of being unable to bring the money home to pay for things like airplanes, staff, and other non-Venezuelan expenses, including fuel purchased outside the country. So, they are quietly making it impossible to buy tickets on their carriers paid for in blovars.

Anatoly Kurmanaev and Christine Jenkins of Bloomberg report:

Tickets from American Airlines (AAL) Inc., Grupo Aeromexico SAB and Avianca Holdings SA (AVH) among others have become harder to buy in Venezuela since September, as tighter currency controls make it more difficult for companies to convert bolivars into dollars. The shortage of greenbacks to fund imports of goods and services led the bolivar to decline 73 percent this year in the black market.

Airlines have the equivalent of $2.6 billion locked in the country at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, according to the International Air Transport Association. They don't want to increase exposure to a currency that investment banks from Bank of America Corp. to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. say will be devalued for the eighth time in 11 years, said Helane Becker, airlines analyst at Cowen & Co LLC.

"I went to 10 air companies and agents all over town and everywhere I received the same answer that no tickets were available," said [Gladys] Varela, who works at a beauty salon in Caracas. "Looks like I won't see my daughter [in Mexico] this year."

Tickets from American Airlines (AAL) Inc., Grupo Aeromexico SAB and Avianca Holdings SA (AVH) among others have become harder to buy in Venezuela since September, as tighter currency controls make it more difficult for companies to convert bolivars into dollars. The shortage of greenbacks to fund imports of goods and services led the bolivar to decline 73 percent this year in the black market.

Airlines have the equivalent of $2.6 billion locked in the country at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, according to the International Air Transport Association. They don't want to increase exposure to a currency that investment banks from Bank of America Corp. to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. say will be devalued for the eighth time in 11 years, said Helane Becker, airlines analyst at Cowen & Co LLC.

"I went to 10 air companies and agents all over town and everywhere I received the same answer that no tickets were available," said Varela, who works at a beauty salon in Caracas. "Looks like I won't see my daughter this year."

Like the 59-year-old mom, a reporter for Bloomberg News unsuccessfully tried six times from Nov. 14 to Nov 25 to buy tickets with local currency from American Airlines, Aeromexico and Avianca.

Here is an official Venezuelan govenrment list (dating from October) of what foreign airlines are currently owed:

Presumably to avoid political retaliation, the airlines have not made an announcement that bolivars are now funny money and worthless for buying airline tickets, they are merely saying that seats are unavailable when people try to use the funny money.

At an Aeromexico office in Caracas, the Bloomberg reporter was told on Nov. 21 that sales were suspended until Jan. 7 because of a software update. On that same day in Bogota, a reporter was able to book a ticket quoted in Colombian pesos for an Aeromexico flight leaving Caracas the next day.

So for Venezuelans with relatives abroad, or who need to travel overseas on business, or who just want to escape the grim realities of life under Marxism, their native currency is now virtually worthless.

The tragic irony is that Venezuela is inherently wealthy: blessed with huge oil supplies and a land capable of producing almost everything. It takes Marxism to create shortages and strangle economic growth.