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Panama suspends Venezuelan airlines in tit-for-tat move

People gather at the gates of Copa Airlines headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela April 6, 2018. — Reuters pic
People gather at the gates of Copa Airlines headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela April 6, 2018. — Reuters pic

PANAMA CITY, April 11 — Panama announced yesterday it was suspending Venezuelan airlines from flying into the country in a tit-for-tat move after Caracas last week barred its main carrier Copa.

The suspension initially set for three months starting April 25 mirrors a similar temporary ban announced Thursday by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

It comes as Latin American countries step up measures to isolate Venezuela, where Maduro is accused of tightening his grip on power by trashing democracy while economic malaise deepens.

A meeting of Latin American leaders in Peru later this week is expected to sharpen the tone and actions against Maduro, who has not been invited.

Panama has already ordered Venezuela’s ambassador to leave and recalled its own envoy to Caracas.

Venezuela’s suspension of Copa followed Panama’s decision to add Maduro to a list of individuals deemed at “high risk” of money laundering.

The move sparked anxiety among Venezuelans because Copa had been the main international airline still flying in and out of their country.

A succession of other airlines, including Aerolineas Argentinas, Avianca, Delta and United have stopped servicing Venezuela, where it has become very difficult for foreign companies to be paid in hard currency.

The few left flying include Air France, American Airlines, Cubana, Iberia of Spain, Swift Air from the US and Turkish Airlines.

The Panamanian suspension will affect seven Venezuelan airlines, including the four biggest: Laser, Avior, Santa Barbara and Conviasa.

Venezuela is teetering on the brink of default despite sitting atop the biggest oil reserves in the world.

Hyperinflation, scarcities of basic food and medicine, and skyrocketing violence are gripping the country, prompting a swelling exodus of its citizens that is increasingly concerning the United Nations.

The International Organization for Migration says nearly one million Venezuelans have left their country over the past two years. Many head to Brazil, Colombia and Panama, and often beyond. — AFP

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