CANCUN, Mexico, June 4 Venezuela is withholding
billions of dollars from global airlines as a deepening crisis
distracts from talks, an industry representative said on Sunday,
a day after United Airlines announced the end of daily
service to the country.
Peter Cerda, vice president of the International Air
Transport Association (IATA), said Venezuela owes airlines "more
than $3.8 billion" after years of failing to reimburse companies
in hard currency for ticket sales in local currency. Last year
IATA said airlines were owed $3.78 billion.
"I still think it will probably get worse before it gets
better," Cerda told journalists on the sidelines of IATA's
general meeting. "The government's main priority is not aviation
... We know what's happening in Venezuela with the uncertainty
and violent demonstrations."
Unrest prompted by a crackdown on the political opposition
and food shortages has resulted in the deaths of at least 65
people since April. On Saturday, United said it was halting its
route between Caracas and Houston, citing weak demand rather
than the ongoing currency dispute.
Airlines from Lufthansa to Air Canada have
pulled out of Venezuela in recent years, citing everything from
the payment dispute to safety concerns.
Government representatives did not immediately respond to a
request for comment
"The industry is trying to be sympathetic. The airlines
don't want to pull out of Venezuela, but we are getting to a
point where airlines need to take business decisions," Cerda
(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Girish Gupta
in Caracas; Editing by Mary Milliken)