CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela is threatening to pull out of the Organization of American States (OAS) as the socialist government’s response to political unrest that has been blamed for 27 deaths in recent weeks draws rebuke from the hemisphere’s major powers.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez said on state TV late Tuesday that she had been instructed by President Nicolás 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 were scheduled to meet 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,” Rodríguez said.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have flooded the streets over the last month to demand an end to Maduro’s presidency. The protests have frequently ended in violent confrontations with security forces, which have used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds, and 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 Díaz, 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 Ortega Díaz 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.
Authorities announced Wednesday that Christian Humberto Ochoa Soriano, 22, was shot and killed during a Monday protest shortly he walked out of his home in Valencia, a city of east of Caracas. It was unknown if he was affiliated with the demonstration.
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. 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.
Rodríguez said the pressure being brought by the U.S. on some of its traditional allies like Haiti to punish Venezuela was considerable. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has called on the group to suspend Venezuela for breaking the constitutional order, but he has so far been unable to rally two-thirds support among the group’s 35 members to carry out such a threat.
No country has ever withdrawn from the OAS since it was created in 1948 and it’s unclear how complicated the process would be.
As a counter to the OAS gathering, Rodríguez said her government was seeking a meeting next week of another regional group — the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states, which was championed as a rival to the OAS by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. It excludes Canada and the U.S.