CARACAS (Reuters) - The head of the Organization of American States (OAS) called on Tuesday for an urgent meeting to see if crisis-hit Venezuela's socialist government had breached democratic rules, which could lead to a process of suspension.
Luis Almagro, a former Uruguayan foreign minister, has called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a "petty dictator," accusing him of disrupting democracy by blocking the opposition-controlled congress and putting loyalists in the Supreme Court.
Venezuela views the OAS as a pawn of hostile U.S. policy, and Maduro has dismissed Almagro as a turncoat working for its ideological adversaries in Washington.
A two-thirds vote in the 34-nation OAS' General Assembly would still be needed to suspend Venezuela.
Caracas has lost the support of diplomatic heavyweights Brazil and Argentina following their recent shifts to the right.
But it still enjoys strong support from small Caribbean and Central American nations, including those who benefit from preferential oil and fuel sales, which could ensure it a numerical advantage in any vote.
A statement from the Washington-based OAS said Almagro was invoking the body's Inter-American Democratic Charter and had requested a meeting of the permanent council between June 10-20 to analyze the situation in Venezuela.
Opposition leaders are seeking to remove Maduro through a recall referendum, and accuse government loyalists in the elections council of stalling the process.
The South American OPEC nation of about 30 million people is reeling from food shortages, vast lines at shops, the world's highest inflation, and a deep recession.
Maduro blames the drop in oil prices on an "economic war" by foes. Opponents say the situation is the product of 17 years of failed socialist policies begun by his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
The OAS suspended communist-ruled Cuba between 1962-2009.
(Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and David Gregorio)