Thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets of the capital, Caracas, in condemnation of ongoing talks by the Organization of American States (OAS) to potentially suspend Venezuela’s membership in the body.
The demonstrators marched in Caracas on Tuesday hours after an OAS meeting kicked off in Washington to discuss the invocation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Venezuela’s government, which would suspend Venezuelan membership.
Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami addressed the crowd, condemning as “a mercenary of imperialism” the secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, who had sought to invoke the charter.
Almagro has called for suspending Venezuela from the OAS if the country does not hold new elections. But the call failed to gain support during the OAS Permanent Council in Washington on Tuesday, with the member countries urging dialog between the Venezuelan government and opposition to settle the crisis.
The US representative, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Fitzpatrick, said the special session’s goal “is not immediate suspension.”
“It will consider all the tools available to the OAS to help the people of Venezuela,” Fitzpatrick said. “We encourage Venezuela to participate in a productive discussion on ways to solve the economic and humanitarian crisis.”
A statement during the meeting also urged the OAS to come up with “concrete proposals to define a course of action that contributes to the identification of diplomatic solutions in the shortest possible time within the institutional framework of our organization and through inclusive consultation with our member states.”
A total of 20 countries voted to open the Tuesday special session of the OAS Permanent Council in Washington. Eleven countries voted against, two abstained, and one was absent.
Bolivia and Nicaragua called to suspend the session, saying it would violate the sovereignty of Venezuela.
Venezuela lashed out at the organization for what it said was interference in the country’s internal affairs in “flagrant violation of its principles.”
If two thirds of the 34 members of the OAS vote to invoke the charter, Venezuela will be suspended from the organization.
Venezuela, which has the world’s highest inflation rate, is facing severe shortages of food, medicine, and basic household goods after a slump in global oil prices. The country is also grappling with a high unemployment rate.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blames the economic crisis on what he says is a US-sponsored ploy, which according to him is aimed at destabilizing the country.
The opposition has been calling for the resignation of Maduro, who was elected in 2013 for a six-year term. There have been protests for and against the Venezuelan president in recent months.
Venezuela’s opposition has also been demanding a recall referendum against Maduro, who was elected in 2013 for a six-year term.
Last week, 14 countries in the OAS, including the United States, called for increasing pressure on Venezuela’s socialist government and urged it to release political prisoners and “reestablish democracy” by holding elections.
Maduro threatened to quit the organization, saying it was time for a debate on whether Venezuela should remain a member given the OAS’s “aggression.”