Maduro says OAS will not be allowed to mediate talks to end three weeks of protests that have left 18 dead.
CARACAS -- In a speech on the one year anniversary of the death of former president Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas Maduro announced that he was breaking commercial and diplomatic relations with Panama.
"I'm not going to accept anyone conspiring against our country," Maduro said, after accusing Panama President Ricardo Martinelli of provoking foreign intervention in Venezuela. "I have decided to break off ties and freeze business relations with Panama."
On February 25, Martinelli had asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to convene a meeting to "analyze" protests that have broken out across Venezuela for weeks.
Earlier in the day, Maduro had hinted that he would be sending a "firm" response against "a lackey government that is openly conspiring against the Venezuelan homeland."
Wracked by 56% inflation, shortages of consumer staples including bread, flour, milk, cooking oil and meat, a bolivar currency that is not readily convertible into foreign currency except in the black market where it has lost three-quarters of its value in a year and trades at 15 times the official rate conversion rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, three-weeks of ongoing protests against the government have left 18 dead.
Maduro said he would not let the OAS into the country, that it is a "dying organization" and that it will not be allowed to mediate political talks in Venezuela.
The OAS is set to meet Thursday about the crisis in Venezuela as a result of request by Panama and coming amid calls by U.S. lawmakers for action against the Maduro regime.