lufthansa airplane.jpg

Lufthansa flight 534 has just landed in Caracas. But only a few dozen people can be seen waiting at the baggage claim.

"I think there were maybe 40 to 50 people on board," said passenger Mary Mujica. She and her husband left Venezuela for Spain a few years ago, but now wanted to visit their family in the midst of the crisis. "Hardly anyone dares to come here any more," Mujica said.

Welcome to Venezuela, the country with the world's highest inflation rate and a socialist government that can no longer feed its people. Caracas' Simon Bolivar International airport has become an emblem of Venezuela’s crisis.

Lufthansa has been flying to Caracas since 1971. On Friday, however, all flights scheduled by the German airline will be canceled until further notice.

"The difficult economic circumstances [in Venezuela] and the inability to transfer local currency into US dollars have both led to this decision," spokesman Thomas Jachnow said.

The state-mandated exchange rate is far lower than that of the black market: a dollar brings 10 bolivars officially, and up to 1,000 on the black market.

Soaring inflation of the bolivar has made it hard for foreign airlines to secure any profit from tickets sold in the local currency. In Venezuela, Lufthansa is waiting to collect hundreds of millions in debts.

According to the web portal Aerotelegraph, Venezuela tops the list of airline debts worldwide with 3.78 billion dollars past due, followed by Nigeria, Sudan, and Egypt.

Since revenue must be exchanged at extremely poor central bank rates and the airlines' bank transfers are repeatedly blocked, airlines are operating fewer and fewer flights.

Even the Chilean-Brazilian airline Latam is due to cancel its Venezuela flights in August, following in the footsteps of Alitalia, Brazilian airline Gol, and the Ecuadorian airline Tame.

And so the airport has become a kind of ghost town. Three duty-free salespeople absentmindedly rotate on swivel chairs and fiddle with their cell phones. Men wait in vain for customers to show up to have their luggage wrapped in plastic. The tourism desk is abandoned - instead, a lot of military personnel are standing around.

Especially hard-hit by this situation are people like taxi driver Manuel Villoria, 67. He has been driving the route from the suburban airport to the center of Caracas for 33 years.

"It was never this bad. Now even Lufthansa is giving up," he said.

At the immigration counter, an oversized image of Hugo Chavez, the founder of "21st Century Socialism," greets new arrivals. He stands in a crowd of young people, with a caption of the slogan "Sigamos juntos" ("Let’s keep it up.")

But the shine is off the great socialist project. Today, people in Venezuela fear an impending explosion of violence.

The opposition wants to oust Chavez successor President Nicolas Maduro by referendum as quickly as possible. Maduro has cracked down on dissent as protests over food shortages have turned deadly.

Above all, there is a lack of foreign currency for importing goods. There are lines everywhere: at pharmacies, supermarkets and bakeries. Malt shortages have curbed the country's beer production. Coca Cola had to cut back due to lack of sugar.

On top of all that come the security problems. Caracas is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

As a result, the lists of flights on airport arrival screens are getting shorter and shorter. For now, Lufthansa will offer only connecting flights through its Colombian and Panamanian partners.

Shortly before Lufthansa 534 arrived, an Air France flight landed from Paris - with only 80 people on board, according to a flight attendant.

"But the plane will certainly be full on the way back," she said. "Because lots of people just want to get out."

Related stories

Venezuelans demand end to "dictatorship" as tensions surge

Currency chaos in Venezuela as bills pulled over "attack"

Lack of new banknotes causes alarm in Venezuela

Latest news

SpaceX plans to fly two passengers around moon, NASA involved

SpaceX is planning to fly two private citizens around the moon next year, the first manned trip to the Earth's only natural satellite in more than four decades, the private company said Monday.

Key congressman has 'no evidence' of Trump contacts with Russia

The chairman of the US House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee said he is not aware of any evidence of improper contacts between Russian officials and Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Gambia's new President Barrow fires army chief

Gambia's new President Adama Barrow has sacked army chief Ousman Badjie, replacing him with a presidential military aide.

Star investor Buffett takes a bigger bite of Apple, doubling shares

Stock market guru Warren Buffett on Monday revealed that his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway doubled its share of iPhone producer Apple stocks last month.

Minister: Erdogan not welcome in Austria for referendum campaign

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should not come to Austria to campaign to Turkish citizens living there ahead of a constitutional reform referendum in his country, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Monday.

Migrant group: Britain hits 'new low' by deporting grandmother

Britain has hit a "new low" by deporting a grandmother from north-eastern England to Singapore, a migrants' rights group said on Monday.

Turkish judge remands German reporter in custody

A Turkish judge remanded German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel in custody Monday, according to newspaper Die Welt, sparking strong condemnation from the German government and rights organizations.

1.4 million people without water after deadly floods in Chile

More than 1.4 million people were without drinking water in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Monday following catastrophic flooding that left at least three people dead.

Serbia PM says no snap parliamentary election

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday that an early parliamentary election would not be held simultaneously with a presidential vote, although the state leadership had announced such a possibility.  

Trump touts 'security budget' with 10-per-cent defence spending hike

US President Donald Trump says he will present a "public security and national security budget" that hikes military spending by 54 billion dollars or about 10 per cent.

National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen fined for Roma comments

The founder of France's far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had a 5,000-euro (5,300-dollar) fine for inciting racial hatred and discrimination confirmed on appeal on Monday.

Croatia-Montenegro relations example for region, says minister

After meeting Croatian Ambassador Veselko Grubisic in Podgorica on Monday, Montenegrin Defence Minister Predrag Boskovic said that relations between Croatia and Montenegro were very good and could serve as an example to other countries in the region.

Over 31,000 South Sudanese flee fighting and hunger to Sudan

Fleeing escalating fighting and famine in South Sudan, over 31,000 people have arrived in neighbouring Sudan so far this year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Monday.

SDP urges gov't to pull statement making radical turn in human rights

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Monday called on the government to take a position on the Croatian foreign policy's turn in human rights, which it said was initiated by Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier, and to withdraw a Foreign Ministry statement on that sent to Brussels.

Police says photoshopped photo of Milanka Opacic motivated by hate

An investigation has proved that a photograph showing Parliament Deputy Speaker Milanka Opacic wearing a shirt with four Cyrillic letters "S" (standing for "only unity saves the Serb", a popular motto and slogan in Serbia and among Serb nationalists) is a photomontage and the police suspect that publishing and distributing the said photo has been motivated by hate and intolerance.

Finance Ministry says didn't analyse HEP's readiness for IPO

The Ministry of Finance on Monday announced that it had not analysed the justification or the readiness of power provider Hrvatska Elektroprivreda (HEP) for an initial public offering with regard to a possible acquisition of Hungarian energy company MOL's stake in Croatia's INA.

Berlin confirms murder of German hostage in the Philippines

Berlin confirmed on Monday the murder of a German hostage by the militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines with Chancellor Angela Merkel condemning the killing as "barbaric" and "abominable".

Syrian refugees arrive in Italy with help from Christian groups

A group of 50 Syrian refugees, more than half of them children, landed in Italy early Monday, entering the country on humanitarian visas obtained with the help of a lay Catholic NGO, Protestant organizations and the Italian government.