Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday he was breaking diplomatic and commercial relations with Panama due to a "conspiracy" to topple his government through daily protests that have left at least 18 dead since mid-February.
Maduro used the anniversary of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s death to sever ties with Panama, whose conservative government he accused of joining the United States in “open conspiracy” against him.
Maduro said he made the move because Panama asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to study the ongoing situation in Venezuela. Maduro considers the OAS to be dominated by Washington.
Standing next to the Chavez tomb, Maduro called Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli a "lackey" of the United States and railed against the OAS.
"Nobody will conspire with impunity to ask for an intervention against our fatherland. Enough!" Maduro thundered as leftist presidents Raul Castro of Cuba, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Evo Morales of Bolivia looked on.
“We don’t accept the interventionism of anyone, because our international policy is a policy of peace, of cooperation, of respect, of the anti-imperialist Latin American union,” he added.
The government of Panama responded later on Wednesday by saying that it rejected Maduro’s “unacceptable offenses” against it.
‘Method of distraction’
FRANCE 24’s Girish Gupta said from Caracas on Wednesday that in cutting ties with Panama, Maduro was using a “method of distraction” amid the ongoing protests that have plagued the country for weeks.
“It’s a very common tactic from this government that plays well for their domestic audience – they used a similar method a few weeks ago when they expelled three US consular officials. Protests here don’t usually last as long as these and Maduro is struggling to deal with them. One of the ways he’s trying to do so is by distraction.”
Despite Maduro’s efforts to focus attention on Chavez on Wednesday, protests erupted in at least six cities.
“The National Guard attacked with a lot of fury against the guys and used tractors to violently take down the barricades,” Mari Marcano, a protester on the tourist island of Margarita, told AP. “They launched a lot of tear gas, shot rubber bullets.”
In restive central Lara state, the leader of a small center-left opposition party, Hector Alzaul Planchart, was shot dead by unknown assailants as he left his party offices in Barquisimeto, according to media reports.
Despite the protests, for many Wednesday’s pomp-soaked anniversary of Chavez’s passing was a time for sadness and nostalgia. Thousands gathered at the capital’s parade grounds to honour the socialist leader who died of cancer on March 5 last year.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-06