When the Mister International beauty pageant kicks off in South Korea next week, one of the short-list favorites won't be strutting his stuff.
Mr. Venezuela Yarnaldo Rey will not compete for the title of world’s most handsome man, thanks to his country’s wacky economic policies.
The 24-year-old model said that recent cutbacks in flights to and from Venezuela made it impossible for him to travel to Seoul in time for the competition.
“It was always a stretch to get those tickets for many reasons," the chisel-abbed model said on his Facebook page. "First of all South Korea is not a common destination for Venezuelan passengers. Secondly, there is a crisis with airline tickets that affects us all and third of all," Rey added, "I am a humble kid without much money.”
Rey isn't being left home alone. Last year a dozen international airlines significantly reduced their flights in and out of Venezuela, leading to big price hikes in tickets and making it a pain for Venezuelans to book a flight out of their increasingly isolated tropical nation.
The reason for the cutbacks is simple. The Venezuelan government, which has enforced strict currency exchange controls over the past decade, has refused to convert airlines’ local currency earnings into U.S. dollars, trapping an estimated $4 billion of the airlines’ money in the country.
In response, airlines have cut back on flights to stop losing money.
Delta, for example, scaled back daily flights from Caracas to Atlanta to one weekly flight. American Airlines reduced its operation from 48 weekly flights to Venezuela, to just 10, and stopped servicing routes to New York and Puerto Rico.
Rey says he regrets not being able to help Venezuela defend its crown and win “back-to-back” Mister International titles. The reigning Mister International is also Venezuelan.
“I'm really sorry about things turning out this way,” he said in a statement. “With all my heart, I tell all those people who have backed me that Yarnaldo Rey will continue to fight on both feet and that I am training even better” for future competitions.
While Rey nurses his Mister International hangover, the Venezuelan government this week announced it will allow companies and individuals to legally trade a limited amount of dollars at market rates.
But the government says overall currency controls will continue, with official agencies providing dollars at the subsidized exchange rate of six bolivares for priority imports and services. There is no word yet whether the changes will mean international airlines can now buy U.S. dollars at preferential rates, or even at the new market rate and finally take their hard-earned cash out of the country.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.