Venezuelans Become Increasingly Shuttered As Phone Companies Restrict International Calls

Venezuelans have been living on scarce supplies of food, paper products, medicine, electronics, and even beer — and now it’s getting harder for residents to make basic phone calls to foreign countries.

woman uses a smartphone

CNBC reported that South America’s largest telephone operator, Movistar, began halting operations during May in all but 10 countries, while Digitel, another major phone operator, stopped providing service to more than 100 countries across the globe.

The phone operators, it recently became clear, had gotten themselves into millions of dollars of debt with foreign lenders.

For Venezuelans, this doesn’t mean that a major overhaul of communication will be occurring all at once. Instead, as CNBC reported, residents have realized that there’s a problem with the operating companies when they go to dial a foreign number and instead hear an “ominous pre-recorded error message.”

Unlike American consumers, who conduct an estimated 12 billion searches on mobile phones each month, most Venezuelans don’t have internet connections on their cell phones — if they have cell phones at all. As Bloomberg reported back in June, cell phones, and smartphones in particular, have become hot commodities on the Venezuelan black market because they are easy to steal, reprogram, and sell.

As of June 2015, the iPhone 6 was selling for 300,000 bolivars, or $47,678 U.S., which was 41 times the mandatory monthly wage in Venezuela.

And even though it hasn’t even been two months since Bloomberg originally reported that statistic, Venezuela’s inflation rate has continued to skyrocket at an astounding rate. At the end of July, the Financial Times reported that the Venezuelan bolivar value had reached 683 bolivars per U.S. dollar. During July alone, it was reported that the bolivar lost 43% of its value.

Ultimately, this means that Venezuelans aren’t likely to find — and keep from being stolen — phones that are capable of making international calls; at the rate of inflation that the country is facing, it’s not surprising that businesses like phone operators, which necessarily conduct business with foreign investors, would be struggling so much that phone service is hard to come by, even for domestic calls.

Even foreign diplomats have had a hard time calling their home countries in Europe, CNBC reported, though no diplomat wanted to be named due to the tense political situation in Venezuela at the moment.