Officials threaten to pull out of OAS in response to social, political unrest
CARACAS, VENEZUELA | Venezuela is threatening to pull out of the Organization of American States as the socialist government’s response to political unrest that has been blamed for 27 deaths in recent weeks is drawing strong criticism from the hemisphere’s major powers.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said on state TV late Tuesday that she had been instructed by President Nicolas Maduro to initiate the country’s withdrawal from the Washington-based OAS if the region’s foreign ministers hold a meeting on the country’s crisis without his administration’s backing.
Her comments came hours before envoys to the OAS met Wednesday to debate a proposal by Mexico, Brazil, the U.S. and 13 other nations to convene a special meeting of foreign ministers to discuss Venezuela’s “situation.”
“We’re not going to continue allowing legal and institutional violations that are arbitrary and surpass any moral, ethical and licit boundary that nations in this regional organization should respect,” Ms. Rodriguez said.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have flooded the streets over the last month to demand an end to the presidency of the Socialist Mr. Maduro, a protégé of the late anti-U.S. populist President Hugo Chavez. The protests have frequently ended in violent confrontations with security forces, which have used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds. There also have clashes with pro-government groups.
The unrest shows no sign of slowing down.
Thousands of protesters were marching Wednesday to deliver a message to the nation’s ombudsman, whose job is to stand up for citizens’ rights but who the opposition has tagged the “defenders of the dictator.” Demonstrators were stopped by state security forces launching tear gas as they marched on the main highway in Caracas.
“The repression is very strong,” said Luis Florido, an opposition lawmaker, as he dodged plumes of tear gas being hurled behind him.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, on Tuesday put a spotlight on the extent of the violence, saying more than 400 people had been injured and nearly 1,300 detained since the protests began in response to a Supreme Court ruling last month that stripped the opposition-controlled congress of much of its powers. The decision was later partially reversed amid a storm of international criticism — and from Ms. Ortega Diaz herself.
Opposition leaders have blamed armed pro-government militias known as “colectivos” for a number of the deaths, while government officials have accused the opposition of working with criminal gangs to foment unrest.
The swell of protests is the most violent in economically struggling Venezuela since two months of anti-government demonstrations in 2014 that resulted in dozens of deaths. Mr. Maduro has called for renewed dialogue, but opposition leaders have discarded that as an option after earlier talks collapsed in December.
Amid the unrest, international pressure on Venezuela to schedule delayed regional elections and free political activists has been steadily mounting at the OAS and in other regional forum.
Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro take cover behind shields during clashes with security forces in downtown Caracas, Venezuela on Wednesday. Venezuelans have flooded the streets over the last month to demand an end to Maduro’s presidency.