In a tit-for-tat diplomatic exchange, Panama has rebuffed Nicaragua's appeal for safe passage for ex-President Ricardo Martinelli, who sought asylum in Nicaragua. The move comes amid Martinelli's bid for Panama's presidency, which faces uncertainty due to an 11-year prison sentence for money laundering.
The former Panamanian leader, declared a presidential candidate in Panama's upcoming May election, found refuge in Nicaragua's embassy after Panama's top court upheld his sentence. However, Panama's constitution bars individuals with prison sentences exceeding five years from serving as president, casting doubt on Martinelli's political future.
Despite electoral authorities refraining from disqualifying candidates, Panama's foreign ministry emphasized that any interference by Martinelli from the embassy regarding Panama's domestic policy would result in diplomatic repercussions. The statement underscores Panama's firm stance against perceived meddling by Nicaragua in its internal affairs.
In response to Panama's refusal, Nicaragua reiterated its grant of asylum to Martinelli, citing humanitarian reasons and his claim of political persecution. The move highlights the divergence in perspectives between the two nations, with Nicaragua defending its decision while Panama stands firm in upholding its sovereignty.
The situation escalated further when senior U.S. diplomat Brian Nichols criticized Nicaragua's decision, asserting that it undermines the rule of law. The comments underscore the broader implications of Martinelli's asylum case, drawing international attention to the tension between diplomatic norms and political asylum rights.
Jose Raul Mulino, Martinelli's running mate and vice presidential hopeful, warned of a looming international conflict between Panama and Nicaragua. Mulino stressed that asylum decisions should be made by the targeted country, hinting at potential repercussions should the impasse persist.
As the standoff continues, diplomatic tensions between Panama and Nicaragua heighten, raising questions about the future of Martinelli's political ambitions and the broader implications for regional relations. The clash underscores the delicate balance between sovereignty and humanitarian obligations in the realm of international diplomacy.