Disagreement in Spanish parliament over controversial bail out of Venezuela-linked airline

Madrid, April 8 2021:  The government in Spain is under fire for providing a bail-out for Ultra Plus, a tiny airline which links Spain with Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

The right-wing opposition has often accused the Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and hard-left coalition partner Podemos over its stance towards Venezuela, who, they claim, is funded by Caracas. In the latest version of this clash, the 10billion Euro pandemic rescue fund was used to bail out the airline. The opposition is calling for a parliamentary inquiry.

Both the liberal Ciudadanos and the far-right Vox have complained to the Supreme court questioning the legitimacy of the government’s decision to “help” an airline that is so tiny, (800 flights compared to Air Europas 165000) it has no strategic justification and just 0.1% market share. Its not even among Spain’s top 30 airlines. These concerns were raised by Ines Arrimadas from Ciudadanos.

According to the opposition and the press, the explanation lies in the relationship between Caracas and Podemos, whose leader Pablo Iglesias once served as an advisor to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. With headquarters in Madrid, Plus Ultra has its main shareholders in Venezuela.

The issue has also grated with the tiny airline’s competitors. “We demand the same treatment… it is unacceptable to discriminate between airlines,” Airline Association head Javier Gandara told El Mundo newspaper.

The issue was downplayed by the leadership in Venezuela. According to foreign minister Jorge Arreaza, “All of this is politics. When I read about the affairs of the Spanish, I laugh a lot… When we kill a cockroach here, it’s on Spain’s front pages the following day.”

Madrid issued a statement saying Plus Ultra offered a service that “complemented” that of “the larger companies” and that the airline’s passengers were mostly Latin Americans “mainly travelling to visit their family”.

According to a government spokesperson on tourism, “It’s not only market share that makes a company strategic, but belonging to a sector that is strategic within the Spanish economy”. And she insisted “that the entire (rescue) procedure had been correctly carried out”.

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