Venezuela blasts OAS as diplomats try to defuse conflict

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Thousands of Venezuelans rallied on Wednesday in support of President Nicolas Maduro as regional governments seemed to back away from a threat to punish his socialist administration for violating its commitment to democracy.

International pressure has been building on Maduro to yield to opposition demands that he face a recall referendum this year amid rising frustration with widespread food shortages and triple-digit inflation. On Tuesday, Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, called for a special emergency meeting of regional governments to evaluate whether Maduro’s jailing of opponents and blocking of legislation from the opposition-controlled congress had gravely undermined democracy and the rule of law.

While that meeting, if it happens at all, is weeks away, analysts say Maduro has little to fear for now from hemispheric action.

Suspending Venezuela from the 34-member OAS, the ultimate sanction for that body, would require a two-thirds vote. That is a nearly impossible outcome given Maduro’s support from fellow leftist leaders in countries like Bolivia and Nicaragua and from more than 10 Caribbean island nations that for years have received subsidized oil from the OPEC nation.

Even conservative governments are showing little stomach for a fight with Venezuela.

After a 10-hour long session Wednesday, the OAS permanent council endorsed by consensus a declaration that was seen as an attempt to avoid a more drastic intervention of the sort favored by Almagro. The declaration expressed support for efforts by former Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to mediate talks between Venezuela’s government and the opposition while siding with Maduro’s demand that any course of action respect Venezuela’s sovereignty. Over the weekend, Zapatero presided over two days of informal secret talks between the two sides in the Dominican Republic.

“The application of the democratic charter doesn’t necessarily resolve the problem,” Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said in Buenos Aires, referring to Almagro’s proposal for sanctions to be considered.

The last time a nation was suspended from the OAS was in 2009, when Honduras was kicked out following a military coup. Venezuela’s closest ally, Cuba, was also suspended for nearly five decades but was invited back in 2009 although it has so far refused to rejoin.

Maduro appears to be relishing the opportunity to blame outsiders for Venezuela’s problems, which include high inflation, shortages and crime.

On Tuesday, he threatened to prosecute leaders in the opposition-controlled congress for treason over their lobbying on behalf of OAS intervention. At a rally Wednesday, he called Almagro a “piece of trash” and accused him of partaking in an imperialist plot to pave the way for a foreign military invasion.

“If one day, which will never arrive, we have to take up a gun, then everyone in the fatherland will have to do so in order to defend this sacred land,” Maduro told supporters outside the presidential palace.


Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez reported this story in Caracas and AP writer Luis Alonso Lugo reported in Washington.

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