Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro has severed diplomatic relations with Panama, accusing the country of being a “lackey” for the United States in a conspiracy against his government. According to Maduro:
There are maneuvers by the U.S. government plotting with a lackey government that has a right-wing president who is leaving in the next few months, who is not worthy of his people, who has been working actively against Venezuela.
The expulsion was triggered by a Panamanian request for a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss solutions to the unrest and violence in Venezuela. Maduro said: “Nobody will conspire with impunity to ask for an intervention against our fatherland. Enough!”
Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats recently on accusations of recruiting students to hold violent, rock-throwing protests against him. Washington has rejected the claims as baseless. But Maduro is desperate to blame anyone he can for the disastrous economic situation in his country, which continues to worsen, especially since the death of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. The inflation rate, at 56%, is the highest in the world. The murder rate is 25,000 annually, one of the world’s highest per capita rates, and 97% of the murders go unpunished. The supermarket shelves are bare, with shortages of everything from toilet paper to vegetables. Anti-government protests have been getting larger and more violent for a month.
However, Maduro’s move may simply be a way to get out of paying a debt. Venezuela owes Panama about $1 billion, mostly from debts incurred related to use of the Panama Canal, and for COPA, the Panamanian airline.
According to Panama’s president Ricardo Martinelli:
I don’t want to think that this is an excuse not to pay and that the Venezuelan state is a deadbeat.
Venezuela would appear to be bankrupt, although it shouldn’t be because it is a very rich country.
Martinelli suggested that despite breaking diplomatic relations, Venezuela “has no excuse” to not pay off its debts.