CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The son of Venezuela's top human rights official is urging his father to prevent further bloodshed tied to anti-government street clashes as officials defy international criticism by withdrawing from the Organization of American States.
Yibram Saab said in an online video that he attended an opposition march Wednesday that was planned to reach the offices of his father, national ombudsman Tarek William Saab. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets that were blamed for the death of a college student.
"This could've been me," said the younger Saab, staring into the camera and pleading with his father to help restore the constitutional order that the son said was broken by the Supreme Court's decision last month to gut the opposition-led congress of its last vestiges of power. "Dad, you have the power to put an end to the injustice that has drowned the country."
In what turned into a battle of political kids Thursday, the son of socialist President Nicolas Maduro responded with a letter saying he regretted his friend's decision to seek "three minutes of fame" with a video being used as a "trophy of war" by the government's enemies.
"Those who today marched by your side are using your father's love to manipulate the country," Nicolas Maduro Guerra wrote.
The elder Saab said in an interview that he loved his son and respected his views even if they disagreed.
The exchange came on the heels of a tumultuous day that saw Venezuela's socialist administration follow through on a threat to quit the OAS, accusing the regional group of plotting against it.
Maduro's government announced the decision to withdraw after a brief but contentious OAS session in Washington at which representatives voted to convene a special meeting of the region's foreign ministers to evaluate Venezuela's crisis.
"We won't recognize any meeting, any decision by the OAS that violates international law," Maduro said Thursday at a rally of government supporters. "Go to hell, OAS."
The withdrawal announcement drew quick rebuke from Venezuelan opposition leaders. Former congresswoman Maria Corina Machado said the exit from the OAS "formalized Venezuela's outlaw status," while two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles predicted Maduro would be removed from the presidential palace before Venezuela exited the regional group.
U.S. President Donald Trump, when asked by reporters about Venezuela at the White House on Thursday, said the country is a "mess."
"I'm very sad for Venezuela. I'm very sad to see what's happened in Venezuela. Venezuela is a very sad situation," he said, standing alongside Argentine President Mauricio Macri.
For his part, Macri said the governments of the region need to keep pressing Maduro to schedule delayed gubernatorial elections and free detained political activists.
Even after four weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have led to 29 deaths and 1,300 arrests, the opposition is showing no inclination to pull back.
On Thursday, thousands gathered in a plaza in eastern Caracas to honor Juan Pablo Pernalete, a 20-year-old accounting student who died 24 hours earlier after being hit in the chest by a tear gas canister fired by security forces.
Fellow students and family members laid flowers and unfurled Venezuelan flags where Pernalete was killed, while leading opposition politicians led the group in prayer and a singing of the Venezuelan national anthem.
As in previous days, a much smaller group capped off the day by setting up burning barricades.
The swell of protests is the most violent seen in Venezuela since two months of anti-government demonstrations in 2014 that resulted in more than 40 deaths. Maduro has repeatedly called for renewed talks between the two sides, but opposition leaders have discarded that as an option after earlier talks collapsed in December.
One potential bulwark against a further crackdown is Saab. As the theoretically autonomous national ombudsman, it's his job to defend citizens' rights. His vote on what's known as the Moral Republican Council, a three-member panel charged by the constitution with defending Venezuela's democratic institutions, could also unlock a solution to the current crisis if he and chief prosecutor Luis Ortega Diaz were to agree to remove Supreme Court justices for overstepping their authority.
While Ortega, in a surprise move, harshly criticized the high court for violating constitutional order, Saab has so far staunchly defended Maduro's actions and dismissed any talk of impeachment. Maduro's opponents have branded him "the dictator's defender."
"I ask you as your son and in the name of Venezuela, to whom you serve, that you reflect on the situation and do what you have to do," the younger Saab said in his video. "I understand you. I know it's not easy. But it's the right thing to do."