Varela imposes visa requirement on Venezuelans

A president who’s down in the polls addresses a nation that seems to be weary of him to do what the demagogues wanted him to do, albeit for a different reason. Photo by the Presidencia.

As of October, Venes will need a visa before coming here

by Eric Jackson

For several years there has been some strident agitation against foreigners, especially by PRD legislator Zulay Rodríguez and a faction of the PRD, an affiliate party of the Socialist International. That party, still Panama’s largest, has fallen upon hard times and Zulay would remake it into an immigrant-bashing formation like France’s National Front. Colombians, with whom Zulay had some controversial dealings as a judge, she dismisses as “scum.” Nicaraguans coming to take low-paying jobs and American permanent tourists have also taken some of the wrath. But because of Venezuela’s crisis, a mostly ruined middle class and some folks who still have money have been fleeing here in droves for years. A few of these immigrants have done or said obnoxious things, which have then been used by some to characterize the great majority of Venezuelans here — who are not like that. It’s the Venes who have been the targets of most of the complaints about immigration into Panama.

In their historical roots, Varela’s Panameñista Party was founded by the Nazi sympathizer Arnulfo Arias and the PRD traces back to José A. Remón, the military officer who played an important role in the coup that ousted Arias on the eve of the US entry into World War II and went on to be elected president in the 50s. One might expect the immigrant bashers and those whom they accuse of being too soft to be aligned the other way around. Times change.

In any case, what’s a relatively unpopular Panamanian president to do, with Venezuela just the other side of Colombia from us and conditions so bad in Venezuela that people are trying to get out however and to wherever they can? Moreover, what’s he to do with the breakdown of Venezuela’s Bolivarian constitutional order and the US president using that as an excuse to threaten military action?

On August 22 Varela went on national television and announced that as of October 1, Venezuelans would need to get a Panamanian visa stamped in their passports before coming to Panama. He said that this measure would last as long as the crisis in Venezuela does. He reiterated Panama’s position that Venezuelans should negotiate a peaceful settlement of their problems among themselves. The president avoids the xenophobic posturing, while saying that he’s protecting Panama’s national interests and sending a tacit message to his Venezuelan counterpart that the collapse of another country’s oil economy will not be Panama’s burden to bear.


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