On May 15, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) banned all commercial and cargo flights between the United States and Venezuela citing violence and unrest in the Latin American country.
“Conditions in Venezuela threaten the safety and security of passengers, aircraft, and crew traveling to or from that country,” said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a letter to DOT requesting the freeze. “The public interests requires an immediate suspension of all commercial passenger and cargo flights between the United States and Venezuela.”
On April 30, The Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. air operators from flying below 26,000 feet in Venezuela’s airspace due to the political instability and tensions. That same day, Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó called on the military and Venezuelan people to rally against the regime of Nicolás Maduro.
The flight suspension comes amid new Venezuela sanctions from the U.S. Treasury Department boycotted two companies which tankers transported oil from Venezuela to Cuba — these were identified as Monsoon Navigation Corporation of the Marshalls Islands and Serenity Maritime Limited of Liberia. The Treasury Department added that companies involved in the defense and security sectors could also be subject to penalties, adding to the oil and banking sectors.
“Treasury’s action today [May 10] puts Venezuela’s military and intelligence services, as well as those who support them, on notice that their continued backing of the illegitimate Maduro regime will be met with serious consequences,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “The U.S. will take further action if Cuba continues to receive Venezuelan oil in exchange for military support. As we have repeatedly said, the path to sanctions relief for those who have been sanctioned is to take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order.”
The Treasury Department’s move came in direct response to the May 8 arrest of Venezuelan National Assembly Vice President Édgar Zambrano by agents of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), who accused him of “high treason.” Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA) stripped Zambrano and six other lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity for supporting Guaidó’s Operation Liberty.
Countries of the region condemned Zambrano’s detention and the violation of parliamentary immunity. On May 13, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States approved a resolution demanding the immediate release of the opposition leader and a halt to the persecution of representatives. The following day, SEBIN agents blocked lawmakers’ access to the National Assembly under the pretense that a bomb was in the facilities. Hours later, the NCA voted to remove immunity to five more representatives.
Members of the National Assembly were able to reenter the building on Wednesday. “Yesterday the dictatorship tried to prevent our session but they couldn’t and they can’t,” Guaidó wrote on Twitter. “Today we will sit in session honoring once more the support and confidence of all of Venezuela.”