World View: Venezuela Breaks Diplomatic Relations with Panama

This morning's key headlines from

  • Venezuela breaks diplomatic relations with Panama
  • Russia escalates the conflict over Ukraine's Crimea region

Venezuela breaks diplomatic relations with Panama

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. Russia Today and CNN and AFP

Russia escalates the conflict over Ukraine's Crimea region

Russia escalated the conflict over Ukraine's Crimea region both politically and militarily on Friday. In doing so, hopes that the crisis might end soon seem very unrealistic. 

Although Russia still refuses to admit that there are Russian troops in Crimea, it was clear that Russian troops were tightening their grip within Crimea: 

  • Russian troops have been blocking Ukrainian military bases and demanding to take control.
  • While the Russian troops were "negotiating" with the Ukrainians at one military base, pro-Russian militias showed up and beat up journalists who were trying to report on the event. 
  • Russia's Navy warships sank two boats in Sevastopol harbor in order to blockade Ukrainian ships and prevent them from leaving.

On the political front, there's been a lot of euphoria in Moscow after the Crimean parliament voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia and to hold a referendum on March 16. Russia is making plans to annex Crimea and Sevastopol as new members of the Russian Federation. It was announced that on March 21, the Duma will vote for a constitutional amendment to allow for the annexation of Crimea, making it the first addition to Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

It's only been a few days since Russia's president Vladimir Putin promised not to "consider" annexing Crimea. That promise was broken within two days by fast-moving events. 

Three days ago, Russian troops that had been performing military drills along the border between Russia and Ukraine for several days were recalled to their barracks. As I wrote at the time, this was considered such good news that Wall Street was sent into a bubble-happy frenzy, pushing stocks up parabolically. 

But in fact, something similar happened in 2008. There were massive military maneuvers on the border with Georgia, leading to fears that Russia was about to invade Georgia. Everyone breathed a sign of relief when the military exercises ended on July 31. But the invasion of Georgia began only eight days later on August 8. If Russia follows the same pattern, then a full-scale invasion of Ukraine may be only a few days away. CNN and BBC and Jamestown

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, Hugo Chávez, Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, Organization of American States, OAS, Russia, Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia 

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