Of­fi­cials threaten to pull out of OAS in re­sponse to so­cial, po­lit­i­cal un­rest

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY FABIOLA SANCHEZ AND JOSHUA GOOD­MAN

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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