Telefonica subsidiary halts international calls from Venezuela

CARACAS, April 8 (Reuters) - Spain’s Telefonica this month will suspend international phone service from Venezuela, the firm’s local subsidiary said on Friday, amid a growing shortage of foreign exchange that has limited telecom investments.

The subsidiary Movistar, Venezuela’s second largest mobile phone provider, last year restricted international calls to only 10 countries following chronic difficulties in obtaining dollars through the OPEC nation’s 13-year-old currency control system.

Movistar on Friday said service to those 10 countries would be “temporarily” suspended as of April 15.

The company in recent months has sought to hike the rates for roaming and international calls and to increase domestic rates to compensate for triple-digit inflation.

Venezuelan telecommunications regulator Conatel, which controls the rates that telecom operators can charge for services, shot down those proposals.

Conatel this week acknowledged that the lack of hard currency has led to “the cancellation of contracts of an international nature.”

Venezuela depends on oil for nearly all of its foreign exchange revenue, which has left its coffers stretched as a result of the nearly two-year rout in oil prices.

Its 13-year-old exchange control system has slashed dollar disbursement to most sectors of the economy, leaving most foreign companies ranging from airlines to drugmakers unable to repatriate revenue from local operations. (Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Andrew Hay)