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Panama Stands Firm: All or Nothing for Democracy in Venezuela

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Mar 19, 2014, 2:54 pm

EspañolSince March 5, when Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced the severance of diplomatic and trade relations with Panama for allegedly “conspiring” against his government, President Ricardo Martinelli has taken an active policy in defense of Venezuelan democracy, and against the dictatorial regime of Nicolas Maduro. Initially the head of the Central American nation merely called for a special meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States to address the current crisis, but now he is not holding himself back to denounce and uncover Maduro’s undemocratic, corrupt, and overbearing behavior.

The Panamanian president has decided to play hard during the two months that remain of his presidency. Before his people and the member countries of the OAS, he could not pass up the insults and offenses from Miraflores. President Mduro not only blamed him, without evidence, of intervening in the internal affairs of Venezuela, he also described him as a “creeping lackey” of the US government and accused him of abusing his public office for personal business, specifically in the Colón Free Zone and the redevelopment of the canal.

Ricardo Martinelli, of the moderate Democratic Change Party (CD), also decided to confront the radical Marxist-Leninist regime because it was not the first time the Chavistas had insulted his allied leaders and parties in his country. In August, 2004, the government of President Chávez froze Venezuelan relations with Panama, after then-President Mireya Moscoso pardoned former police agent Luis Posada Carriles and claimed that his life would be in danger if extradited to Venezuela. The normalization of relations returned with the coming to power of former socialist-leaning President Martin Torrijos, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

Hence, in recent days the Panamanian president publicly asked Maduro to “kick his hairy hand out of Panama’s politics.” Martinelli is accusing Maduro of a series of statements that favor the Panamanian challenger Juan Carlos Navarro, presidential candidate of the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) for the upcoming general elections on May 4. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Panama reported that Maduro committed “actions that already constitute a clear interference in the internal affairs of Panama,” because “more than once” he publicly stated his “preference for the candidate of the political party founded by General Omar Torrijos Herrera.”

Tiempos felices entre Martinelli y Maduro. Fuente: Ministerio de Comunicación de Venezuela.
Former happy time of Martinelli and Maduro. Source: Ministry of Communications of Venezuela.

Moreover, Martinelli has announced that in the coming days he will meet the Venezuelan opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado in his country. The Panamanian mission to the OAS also offered her their seat on the Permanent Council — as well as for other Venezuelan opposition spokespeople — to explain in that forum the grave situation in Venezuela due to the brutal police and military repression suffered through for almost five weeks of peaceful protests. At the same time, the Panamanian representative to the OAS said that Panama will insist that human rights are respected in Venezuela.

Given the irresponsible statements of Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua — who claimed that 90 percent of Venezuela’s debt of US$1 billion with businesses from Panama’s Free Zone are fraudulent — the Panamanian government reacted immediately and said it was willing to reveal the secret bank accounts of Venezuelan government officials in the country. Roberto Henriquez, Martinelli’s Presidency Minister, said Venezuelan government officials resorted to Panamanian banks to hide undeclared money, and that his government could use those funds to pay the debt that Venezuelan businesses have with the Colón Free Zone.

Also, the manager of the continent’s largest free trade zone, Leopoldo Benedetti, reported that part of the debt that Venezuela keeps with the zone is due to “frauds” committed by businessmen linked to the government of Nicolás Maduro through shell companies.

“The Cadivi [Foreign Exchange Administration Commission] debts totaled $1.47 billion,” he said, “and we discovered that $937 million of that debt had nothing to do with the Free Zone, but are frauds committed in Venezuela.”

Upping the pressure, Ricardo Quijan, Panamanian minister of commerce, has announced that he is preparing negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other international organizations on the measures that Venezuela has taken for barring the purchase of US dollars to any Venezuelan citizen who wants to travel, invest, or send money to Panama.

“We will go to international bodies because this is a flagrant and discriminatory violation towards Panama, and Venezuelans doing business with Panama or living in that country, by the government of Nicolás Maduro,” Quijano said.

As we see, at least one of the democratic governments of the region has decided to break the pragmatic and ideological fence that now exists in Latin America around Venezuela — hidden under the umbrella of a misunderstood principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations.

As much as the Maduro government tries to discredit this active attitude in defense of Venezuelan democracy, claiming it is subject to the will of the government of the United States, that same attitude helps expose the true face of the dictatorial regime of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Perhaps will encourage similar pronouncements by governments or other democratic actors in the hemisphere.

Translated by Alan Furth.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.