May 16 (UPI) — All flights between the United States and Venezuela were suspended indefinitely, the Department of Homeland Security’s secretary announced Wednesday.
The decision was coordinated with two other Cabinet members. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has approved the suspension and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has implemented it, according to a statement from DHS.
“Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan determined that conditions in Venezuela threaten the safety and security of passengers, aircraft and crew, requiring an immediate suspension of all commercial passenger and cargo flights between the United States and Venezuela,” DHS said in a news release.
The agency said the decision is “based on the ongoing political instability and increased tensions in Venezuela and associated inadvertent risk to flight operations.”
In March, American Airlines was the last U.S. airline to suspend its flights, ending its Miami-Caracas route.
Other international carriers, includimg Air Canada and Lufthansa, also have ceased flights.
Copa Airlines, based in Panama, had continued flights between Caracas and the United States, , including Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Miami
On April 9, the State Department advised U.S. citizens: “Do travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, and arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens.”
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has been recognized as the country’s legitimate interim president by more than 50 countries, including the United States, and has been seeking new elections in the country. Nicolas Maduro was re-elected for another six-year term in an election seen as rigged.
Guaido, who is Venezuela’s National Assembly president, invoked Venezuela’s constitution and launched an interim government in January.
Since a failed coup on April 30, Maduro has cracked down on Guaido’s supporters.
For several weeks there has been a standoff at Venezuela’s Embassy in Washington, D.C., with Maduro backers inside the building and Guaido supporters outside.
Leftist demonstrators began living in the building April 10 at the invitation of Maduro government officials.
On Wednesday, The Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered food and water to four activists living inside the embassy, part of a new effort to bring supplies to the protesters each day.
“They were trying to starve them out,” Jackson said to The Washington Post after helping to deliver food that the embassy’s occupiers hoisted inside with a rope.
Matthew Burwick, who has demonstrated outside the embassy for weeks, implored Jackson to “send food to Venezuela” rather than the activists.
The food bags contained pink trim, symbolic of the left-wing Code Pink.
“We’re mobilizing ministers and people around the country to start coming here every day,” Jackson said. “We’ll have people from the Rainbow Push Coalition here every day until there’s a break in the situation.”