One of Venezuela’s strongest allies in Latin America on Wednesday accused the secretary general of the Organization of American States of conspiring with the United States against Caracas.
“[Luis] Almagro is an official at the service of the interventionist policies of the United States,” said Bolivia’s representative to the OAS, Diego Pary. “All of us present here in this room, we have been witness to how the secretary general has been called and instructed regarding the interventionist plan in Venezuela.”
Almagro, who is from Uruguay, participated in a permanent council meeting of the Western Hemispheric body in Washington during which 17 member nations called for the situation in Venezuela to be discussed. Bolivia, with Nicaragua and Venezuela, objected to the topic even being raised in the forum, arguing it violated Caracas’ sovereignty.
Venezuela has long blamed its economic and political crisis on the United States, saying Washington is deliberately stoking internal unrest to oust President Nicolas Maduro from office. But much of Latin America has joined the United States in calling on the Venezuelan government to abandon a planned July 30 vote on rewriting the constitution, and stripping lawmakers of power.
“Silence is not an option because the crisis that has erupted and that is ongoing in our sister republic of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is not a crisis that we believe will remain contained,” said Colombia’s OAS representative, Andres Gonzalez Diaz. “And even if it were, the Venezuelan people themselves deserve a dignified way out of this very deep, deep crisis. We cannot turn a blind eye.”
Pary admonished Almagro for “launching a campaign against the legitimate government of Venezuela” and testifying about Venezuela last week in front of the U.S. Senate. In that congressional hearing, the OAS secretary general decried what he called the dictatorship of Maduro and the collapse of democratic norms in the country.
Almagro this week appointed Argentine lawyer Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former International Criminal Court prosecutor, to investigate crimes against humanity in Venezuela and to develop suggested OAS action to address the situation.
“Let me be quite clear: the United States fully respects Venezuelan sovereignty and independence,” U.S. OAS Interim Representative Kevin Sullivan said Wednesday. “Nevertheless, we as part of the hemispheric community of nations cannot stand by as human rights are trampled and citizens are arrested and attacked for expressing their opinions.”
Venezuelans have taken to the streets to protest Maduro, who has about a 20 percent approval rating. The opposition, which holds the Venezuelan congress, organized a national strike Wednesday ahead of Sunday’s national referendum to elect representatives to a Constituent Assembly. Maduro has said the vote is the “only road to restore peace” in the country, but the opposition sees it as a power grab meant to consolidate the president’s hold on government.
The opposition is calling for a boycott of Sunday’s vote after having organized a symbolic referendum on July 16 that saw more than seven million people reject Maduro’s attempt to change the country’s constitution. Members of the opposition party are regularly jailed, and Venezuelan security officials stood by on July 5 when Maduro supporters stormed the national assembly and beat and bloodied lawmakers.
On Wednesday, Mexico joined Colombia and the United States in rejecting assertions made by Maduro that the three countries were jointly engaged in a targeted campaign to unseat him.
“This is an attempt to create distractions instead of addressing the true problems,” said Mexico’s OAS Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba Gongora.
Wednesday’s OAS debate came as President Donald Trump’s administration announced targeted sanctions on 13 Venezuelans, including current and former high-level government officials and military leaders. Washington also is considering oil sanctions on Venezuela, targeting a resource that comprises 75 percent of the country’s exports. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has been advising Trump on Venezuela policy, supports that action.