By Franco Ordonez – WASHINGTON — Venezuela’s foreign minister accused the United States on Thursday of plotting to topple the government of President Nicolas Maduro and using the secretary of the Organization of American States to try to engineer its suspension from the multinational organization.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the OAS’s discussion of whether to invoke its Democratic Charter against Venezuela was part of a campaign against Maduro, orchestrated by the United States and Venezuela’s opposition.
“This is part of the ongoing and relentless aggression by the United States against Venezuela,” Rodriguez told an extraordinary meeting of the organization.
Rodriguez requested the meeting as the ambassadors of its member states began discussions on whether to suspend Venezuela over the treatment of its opposition.
Her attack on Luis Almagro, the secretary-general, continued a monthslong feud that began last year when Almagro accused the Venezuelan government of stifling political dissent, manipulating the media and blocking opposition leaders from running for office.
Maduro responded by calling the Uruguayan diplomat “a piece of garbage.”
For years, Venezuela has exercised disproportionate influence on the OAS, largely because many members receive subsidized oil under Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program. Maduro, a former foreign minister, has threatened that nations that oppose him could “go dry.”
But as oil prices plummeted, the Petrocaribe program weakened. Maduro appears now to be trying to exercise what influence he has left to counter the effort, said David Goldwyn, chair of the Energy Advisory Group at the Washington-based Atlantic Council research center.
“The challenge here is while many of the Petrocaribe countries are beginning to diversify their source of supply and reduce their dependence on Petrocaribe, that transition is still very much in play and not completed,” he said.
Allies quickly came to the Venezuelan government’s defense. Diego Pary, the Bolivian ambassador, encouraged Venezuela to continue its fight against imperialist powers. The Nicaraguan ambassador, Denis Moncada, warned the OAS not to overstep its role of cooperation.
“We see no moral standing for the intervention of any states,” Moncada said.
But Canada and the United States urged members to seize the issue and support democratic practices.
Michael Fitzpatrick, interim permanent representative for the United States, said the U.S. government had grown increasingly concerned about Venezuela’s growing shortages of basic goods such as food and medicine and the limited space the government has allowed for opposition voices. He cited rulings by the Venezuelan Supreme Court, a Maduro-appointed body, limiting the opposition-led National Assembly’s authority to review how the court’s justices were installed by the previous legislature.
“This effectively stopped an open debate on the finding of a National Assembly committee’s investigation into the December nomination and confirmation process, about which many Venezuelan citizens have questions,” Fitzpatrick said.
Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialog, a Latin America-focused research center in Washington, said Rodriguez’s defense of the Maduro administration was intended to intimidate Almagro, who has taken a tough stand on Venezuela.
But Shifter said that even though most member states were worried about the situation in Venezuela, it was unlikely they would agree to impose the charter now. Some governments question whether the charter is the right instrument to address Venezuela’s problems. Other governments, representing the executive branch, wonder whether they might be the next target of opposition-controlled congresses that similarly think their legislative agendas are being thwarted undemocratically.
“Despite Venezuela’s dramatic economic collapse, the country can still count on support of many Caribbean nations,” Shifter said. “Some remain loyal to Maduro personally; others are reluctant to set a precedent. It would be very surprising if the move to invoke the charter in the Venezuela case got any political traction among OAS member states.”
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Almagro’s spokesman dismissed charges that he was working with the United States. Sergio Jellinek said Almagro represented all the countries that had signed the Democratic Charter.
“He has been very clear,” Jellinek said. “He received a letter from the National Congress of Venezuela asking him to act urgently to seek ways for improving the situation in the country. He said he will study and will in due course see if there are conditions to present to the permanent council a case of the Democratic Charter.”