Venezuela hurts its own with Copa airline suspension: Panama's Varela

Slideshow ( 5 images )

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's decision to temporarily suspend Copa Airline's CPA.N flights to and from the troubled OPEC country will hurt Venezuelans more than the regional carrier, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said on Friday.

Maduro targeted Copa along with other Panamanian companies, Varela himself and other government officials one week after Panama put Maduro and some 50 Venezuelan nationals on a list of those considered “high risk” for money laundering and financing terrorism. In announcing its action on Thursday, Venezuela said those on its list pose a risk to its financial systems.

Both countries have withdrawn their ambassadors, escalating tensions between the countries.

On Friday, Varela said Venezuelans would be the real victims of the move on Copa.

“Panama is a logistic route,” he told reporters. “Venezuelans rely on Panama to supply medicine and food that they lack.”

Recently, various international airlines have abandoned Venezuela, citing insecurity and currency issues, which make it hard for them to repatriate profits. Copa was one of the few that continued operating flights, and its temporary suspension further isolates the country.

Venezuela is experiencing a severe crisis amid an economic recession, hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine that have left millions seeking to abandon the country.

“We don’t want to enter into a diplomatic fight,” Varela said. “We hope that reason prevails, but Panama will keep taking the steps previously announced in the coming days and weeks.”

Reporting by Elida Moreno in Panama City and Rodolfo Pena in Mexico City; Writing by Julia Love; Editing by Leslie Adler