CARACAS — The United States banned all air transport with Venezuela on Wednesday over security concerns, further isolating the troubled South American nation by severing one of its last links to the world’s largest economy.
The Department of Homeland Security said it decided to immediately suspend all commercial and cargo flights between the United States and Venezuela because the country’s political crisis threatened the safety of passengers, aircraft and crew.
The decision will be a heavy blow for millions of Venezuelans who rely on donations or remittances from relatives abroad to survive, as the country’s crumbling economy has destroyed most of its industry and agriculture and slashed government imports. Many have relied on airline courier services from Miami to obtain scarce medication, spare parts and food.
“This will be a catastrophe for a lot of people,” said Feliciano Reyna, head of the health nonprofit Acción Solidaria, which receives medical donations from the United States through air courier services. “This will complicate enormously the transportation of humanitarian aid to the country.”
Mr. Reyna said he will now have to import medicine by sea or through other countries, raising the cost and making it harder for his group to respond to medical emergencies.
The flight ban comes amid tightening economic sanctions by the Trump administration against President Nicolás Maduro, which are aimed at forcing him to cede power in favor of the opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
Despite nearly two decades of hostile rhetoric and diplomatic tension between the two nations, the United States had remained Venezuela’s biggest trading partner and cultural compass until the Trump administration and about 50 allied nations recognized Mr. Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader this year. Since then, the United States has banned oil trade with Venezuela, which wiped out the bulk of goods exchange between the two countries.
Mainstream United States-based carriers have all stopped flying to Venezuela in recent years because of falling demand, currency controls and security risks. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines stopped flying to the country in 2017, and American Airlines suspended its daily flights from Caracas to Miami in March after a protest by its pilots.
The big carriers were replaced by Venezuelan airlines and small charter companies, which serviced the route between Caracas and Miami, home to a major Venezuelan diaspora and a traditional tourist destination for the country’s wealthier citizens. All direct flights from Caracas to Miami were canceled Wednesday, according to the Caracas International Airport’s website.
The biggest impact will fall on Venezuela’s largest private airline, Avior Airlines, which has operated daily flights to Miami from Caracas and the eastern city of Puerto La Cruz.