PANAMA CITY – Panama’s vice president and foreign minister traveled to Caracas on Tuesday to meet with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and negotiate the settlement of roughly $1 billion in dollar debt owed to Panamanian companies.
Isabel De Saint Malo de Alvarado’s visit stems from a meeting between Maduro and Panamanian counterpart Juan Carlos Varela at the just-concluded Summit of the Americas in Panama City.
The visit is aimed at settling the dollar debt Venezuela owes to companies in the Colon Free Trade Zone and Panama City-based Copa Airlines, the Panamanian Foreign Ministry said, adding that Venezuelan authorities have shown full willingness to make progress in the talks.
Although no figures were mentioned, previous estimates put the debt at around $1 billion, nearly half of which is owed to Copa Airlines and the rest to companies in the Colon Free Trade Zone – the largest free port in the Americas – and to pharmaceutical companies.
Due to strict currency controls in Venezuela, airlines such as Copa and other foreign companies have been unable to repatriate peso-denominated revenue back to their home countries in dollars.
Among those accompanying De Saint Malo on the trip were Deputy Foreign Minister Luis Miguel Hincapie; Energy Secretary Victor Urrutia; the general manager of the Colon Free Trade Zone, Surse Pierpoint; and Copa Airlines Chief Financial Officer Jose Montero.
Foreign Ministry spokespersons said the delegation would return to Panama later Tuesday.
The dollar debt accumulated during the 2009-2014 tenure of former President Ricardo Martinelli, whose administration was unsuccessful in having it paid.
The current administration resumed negotiations after bilateral relations were restored last July 1.
Venezuela’s government severed relations with Panama just over a year ago, saying Martinelli had meddled in its internal affairs when he called for the Organization of American States to intervene amid anti-government protests in the South American country.