WILLEMSTAD, CARACAS - After eight years, the passengers who were left stranded by the Dutch Antilles Express (DAE) are still waiting for the result of a long trial in court.
The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba ordered the Giro Bank of Curaçao to pay more than one million dollars to another financial institution, in the framework of a litigation caused by bankruptcy and suspension of the airline Dutch Antilles Express.
The decision, issued by the aforementioned instance on May 4, also establishes that the Giro Bank must also pay the Korpodeko entity (Curaçao’s development bank) an annual cumulative interest on this sum of the 4.5%, calculated as of March 2013.
DAE began operating in 2005, as a result of the merger of two airlines that were also based in the islands of the Dutch Caribbean. Although it offered flights from Bogotá and Paramaribo, the greatest attention was paid to Venezuelan travelers.
Its first departure airport was Arturo Michelena in Valencia, and then it extended its operations to Maiquetía, Las Piedras and Maracaibo, all in Venezuela. In those years, the numbers of Venezuelan tourists to the Caribbean islands, Panama, the United States and other countries were constantly growing, thanks to the existence of dollars at subsidized prices for foreign tourism, delivered through the extinct Commission for the Currency Administration (Cadivi).
Statistics from the World Tourism Organization indicate that, in 2005, when DAE began to provide service, the number of Venezuelan tourists abroad reached one million 67 thousand, the highest total since records began to be kept (1994).
These figures continued their sustained growth until 2008 (1.74 million). When DAE was declared bankrupt in 2013, the business continued to boom, with 1.93 million tourists leaving the country. But problems were already looming, as it was unsustainable for the Venezuelan government to continue financing foreign tourism.
The records consigned in the Giro Bank vs. Korpodeko lawsuit indicate that DAE had entered insolvency when the Venezuelan government stopped recognizing the debt contracted in US currencies for the sale of tickets in bolivars. In March 2013, Korpodeko came to the aid of the airline. The bank deposited a million dollars in Giro Bank as part of a guarantee.
So, there was the expectation that the airline could recover the money it considered owed by the Venezuelan government, through Cadivi. According to a ruling in this litigation, other Caribbean lines such as InselAir and Tiara Air had succeeded.
But DAE could not. In June 2016, the bank appropriated the funds consigned by Korpodeko, an entity in which the Curaçao government has interests, since it is dedicated to financing “sustainable development” projects.
The corporation demanded the return of the funds taken by the Giro Bank. But this entity was also experiencing financial difficulties. In 2013, the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten had declared its insolvency, and revoked its license to operate. Still, it had to honor his commitments.
In search of compensation
The abrupt cessation of DAE flights in 2013 caused damage to passengers. In August of that year, the Dominican government announced an investigation into the causes of the breach of the line, which left hundreds of Venezuelans stranded at the International Airport of the Americas.
In Venezuela, the National Alliance of Users and Consumers (Anauco) initiated a lawsuit against DAE before a court specialized in aeronautical matters. During the investigation, recalled the president of the entity, Roberto León Parilli, they realized that the company lacked assets, beyond seven aircraft. "Everything else was rented," he said.
Despite the fact that the airline was registered in Curaçao, the president was Venezuelan Nelson Ramiz, already known in the aeronautical environment for having been the owner of Aeropostal. In 2008, this businessman sold the aforementioned airline to a group headed by Walid Makled, a drug lord who is detained at the headquarters of the political police of the Chavista regime.
Shortly before the DAE crisis was made public, in July 2013, Ramiz announced in an interview with a Dominican tourism portal his plans to expand the routes of the airline to Cuba and the United States.
But none of this happened. According to León Parilli, DAE's most valuable assets, its aircraft, are deteriorating in Curaçao, while this slow judgment is being settled. "This was almost a paper company, with seven of its own planes and another thirteen that made charter flights," said the lawyer.