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Venezuela restores transport links with Dutch islands

09 Apr 2018 21:33 (+01:00 GMT)
Venezuela restores transport links with Dutch islands

Caracas, 9 April (Argus) — Venezuela restored air and sea connections with the Dutch Caribbean, even as relations with another neighbor, Panama, broke down.

Following a 7 April meeting in Caracas, executive vice president Tareck El Aissami and Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok agreed on bilateral measures to immediately reinstate commercial air and sea transport connections with the nearby islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire.

Venezuela "will take all necessary mechanisms to normalize air and sea communications and strengthen bilateral trade, tourism, energy and financial relations with these islands," El Aissami said.

At a ceremony to sign a new bilateral cooperation agreement that covers sensitive issues such as contraband and migration, Blok highlighted "historical, cultural and economic ties" between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Venezuela, noting that "it is important to sustain dialogue at all times, even under difficult circumstances...the document provides a framework for the follow-up within technical commissions that require both sides to work together in implementing," Blok said.

No details on the commissions were immediately disclosed.

President Nicolas Maduro suspended commercial ties with Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao – known as the ABC islands – on 5 January after accusing their Dutch-controlled governments of ignoring smuggling of Venezuelan goods such as gold and diamonds.

The three islands have oil refining and storage infrastructure that Venezuela's state-owned PdV has traditionally used to get its oil to market. These oil-related operations were not directly affected by the border closure. But PdV´s deepening financial problems have left it vulnerable in oil cargo seizures in the Dutch Caribbean.

The friction with the islands was resolved as relations with another of Venezuela´s neighbors are souring. Maduro on 5 April suspended commercial relations with a group of senior Panamanian officials and companies for 90 days in retaliation for a 27 March decision by the Panamanian government to name senior Venezuelan officials and Venezuelan-owned firms in Panama believed to be at high risk of laundering money.

The immediate impact of Venezuela´s sanctions on Panama was felt in air transportation. Among the Panamanian companies targeted by Venezuela is Copa Airlines, which until 6 April accounted for 37pc of international flight frequencies and 21pc of available international passenger seats operating from airports in Caracas, Maracaibo and Valencia.

The Venezuelan commercial airlines association (ALAV) welcomed the announcement reopening air and sea routes to the ABC islands. But prohibiting Copa from operating in Venezuela has significantly increased Venezuela´s isolation from Europe and the Americas, ALAV said.

Since 2013 a total of 17 international airlines including Copa have suspended their Venezuelan flight operations in a dispute over the repatriation of some $3.8bn in accumulated profits.

Venezuelan transport minister Carlos Osorio today officially reopened commercial flight services to the ABC islands from Arturo Michelena international airport in Valencia, Carabobo state. Osorio said flight services from Caracas and Maracaibo to the islands also would resume this week.

"President Maduro instructed us to progressively reactivate commercial sea and air transport with the islands now that all of Venezuela's concerns have been addressed satisfactorily," Osorio added.

Commercial maritime transport to the ABC islands from the Venezuelan ports of Vela de Coro and Guaranao in Falcon state also resumed today, Osorio said.