Venezuela's cellphone providers suspend international calls

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's two main cellphone service providers are suspending long distance calling as the South American country struggles to pay its bills.

Movistar, a subsidiary of the Spain-based Telefonica, and Digitel both announced last week that they would be cutting international service because of issues related to Venezuela's byzantine currency controls. Digitel ended that service on Saturday while Movistar will do so Friday.

The companies had already dramatically reduced the list of countries Venezuelans could call.

Movistar said the change will be temporary, but didn't say when long distance calling will resume. Venezuelans will still be able to make international calls from some landlines.

Currency rationing is increasingly cutting Venezuela's global trade. Many airline companies have abandoned the country, and mail delivery is also limited.

The government has created what amount to subsidized rates for hard currency and requires companies to get approval for converting local bolivars into dollars. With the administration running low on dollars itself amid a general economic collapse, officials are increasingly reluctant to part with any foreign currency.

The phone companies have said they are tens of millions of dollars in debt to foreign providers and have unsuccessfully asked the government to increase rates for international calls.

Those rates have failed to keep up with Venezuela's triple-digit inflation, with a four-hour call to Hong Kong costing less than 50 cents at the black market exchange rate.