Venezuela seeks to stymie OAS meeting, vows 'severe' response

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 27, 2017 12:09 PM

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela called on Monday for the suspension of an Organization of American States meeting intended to discuss the South American OPEC nation's economic crisis and political standoff.

The Washington-based OAS is due to debate Venezuela on Tuesday after its secretary-general said the country should be suspended from the regional diplomatic body if it does not hold elections.

Heightening pressure on President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government, after authorities thwarted a referendum on him last year and also postponed local polls, 14 nations last week also urged elections and freedom of jailed opponents.

Maduro, the 54-year-old successor of Hugo Chavez, says the OAS is a pawn of hostile U.S. policy and his government said in a statement that Tuesday's proposed meeting broke the bloc's rules and should be canceled.

"There is ongoing harassment against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela led by the United States, via OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro," it said.

"If this illegal, unilateral, deviant and biased behavior in favor of violent extremists in Venezuela continues, we will proceed with severity and firmness through diplomatic means and international law in line with Venezuela's constitution."

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez was also due to address the 34-nation OAS later on Monday.

Even though regional disquiet is growing, diplomats believe Almagro lacks the two-thirds votes necessary to trigger a suspension of Venezuela given staunch support from the leftist ALBA bloc and sympathies among Caribbean nations who have long received subsidized oil from Caracas.

Opponents say Maduro has turned Venezuela into a dictatorship and wrecked the economy by fanning corruption and persisting with failed socialist policies. He accuses foes of an "economic war" intended to presage a coup against him.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by James Dalgleish)