PHOTO: Aero Icarus.

MIAMI — The Venezuelan government has unilaterally suspended all Copa Airlines operations to and from the country for at least 90 days, starting today, “to protect the Venezuelan financial system from organized crime and terrorism,”  an official communicate says. The release notes that the sanction could be extended.

The unilateral measures come as a retaliation taken by the government of Nicolás Maduro over a series of sanctions the Government of Panama imposed last week on several Venezuelan politicians.

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The Panamanian Government stated that Maduro, along with 55 individuals and 16 Venezuelan companies, are considered a “high risk” for laundering money, terrorism financing, and trafficking weapons of mass destruction.

In return, the Venezuelan regime issued these sanctions against Copa Airlines claiming that several top-ranking authorities from Panama, including its President, Juan Carlos Varela, had been involved in money laundering.

“[They] present an imminent risk to the [Venezuelan] financial system, the stability of commerce in the country, and the sovereignty and economic independence of the Venezuelan people,” Maduro said.

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The retaliation from the Venezuelan government has taken Copa Airlines by surprise. These penalties were released by 4:00 p.m. local time on Thursday, April 5, and the Venezuelan National Civil Aviation Institute (INAC) released it at 9:00 p.m. via a Twitter post.

INAC claims the sanctions imposed on Copa were “to prevent organized crime and terrorism finance”

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As a consequence, commercial ties with various companies and Panamanian officials were halted by the Venezuelan executive. Following Venezuela’s measures, Panama has decided to recall its ambassador and asked the Venezuelan ambassador in Panama City to leave the country.

Copa Airlines said in a release that all affected passengers may ask for a refund of any outstanding tickets without penalties.

As of today, Copa Airlines was the last Latin American carrier operating in Venezuela with daily services to/from its hub in Panama City.

Just recently, the airline celebrated its 70th anniversary and held an event at the Venezuelan Capital reaffirming their intentions to continue serving the country despite the massive exodus of Venezuelans and the cancellation of other airlines serving Caracas. Copa has operated daily flights to Caracas for the last 20 years.

Venezuela has suffered a massive exodus of airlines, with ten global carriers axing their daily services to the country in the last six years. International organizations have also fled away because of the prohibitive, unsafe, and tense political climate in the country.

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Since 1997, Copa Airlines has flown millions of Venezuelan passengers, connecting them from Caracas (CCS), Maracaibo (MAR), and Valencia (VLN) across its 75 destinations in 31 countries in the American continent.

With this suspension, the connectivity to Latin American cities from Venezuela will see a drop of over 85% in seat availability.

Currently, Wingo remains as the only Latin American carrier flying to Venezuela, five times per week, from its hub in Bogota. Wingo is a subsidiary of Copa Airlines and, so far, hasn’t been added to the sanction.