White House

Trump administration: Kick Venezuela out of OAS ... or else

The Trump administration is expected on Monday to call on partners in Latin America and the Caribbean to stop talking about Venezuela and suspend the country from the Organization of American States, McClatchy has learned.

Vice President Mike Pence will deliver the strong message at a reception with allies where he will promise to take notice of countries who don’t stand with the United States on a vote Tuesday to kick Venezuela out of the United Nations-like organization of Latin American countries.

“Dictatorships thrive on the indulgence of regional divisions,” a White House official told McClatchy. “The Maduro regime will only further consolidate autocratic power at the cost of democracy and freedom if OAS members lack the courage to act.”

The more than 30 nations will convene Monday and Tuesday for the 48th annual OAS General Assembly where Venezuelan is expected to be the focus of two days of discussions in Washington.

Tuesday’s vote will be a significant test for the Latin American and Caribbean diplomats who have been reluctant to take punitive measures against one of their own.

Venezuela has said they're already leaving the OAS announcing last year it would begin the withdrawal process. But under the OAS charter, it takes two years for a nation to quit the organization and officials could change their mind.

Venezuela sits on the world's largest oil reserves, but the once-thriving nation has plummeted into a deepening humanitarian and economic crisis amid food shortages and an inflation rate that has quadrupled in recent months.

Despite Venezuela’s dramatic economic collapse, the country can still count on the support of many Caribbean nations. Some remain loyal to Maduro personally; others are reluctant to set a precedent out of fear that they could be the next one targeted.

Among the countries likely to feel that pressure, sources say, is Haiti, whose recent abstentions on Venezuela has been problematic for Trump administration officials and some U.S. lawmakers.

During the Summit of the Americas in April, Haiti President Jovenel Moïse met with then-acting Secretary of State John Sullivan and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Rubio confirmed to the Miami Herald that he raised the issue of Venezuela with Moïse, who currently chairs the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) regional bloc.

Trump administration officials and others have been growing frustrated with Haiti's abstention on the Venezuela issue at the OAS. The country previously had taken a hard line against the U.S. in favor of Venezuela.

Rubio said Moïse suggested Haiti could act as an intermediary because it has good relations with Venezuela.

"My response to that was, great, if they thought they could do that as long as it's moving toward democracy and not Maduro staying in power," he said. "But my bigger point was that if any country in the region knows what its like to suffer from oppression and humanitarian catastrophe it's Haiti, and I asked them to take that into account as they view their role at the OAS."

Trump has been aggressive toward Venezuela, leading efforts to isolate the Maduro regime. Earlier this month, the Trump administration called for regime change in Venezuela, charging that has become an "active threat" to the entire Latin American region.

"For the safety and the security of all people in Latin America, it is time for Maduro to go,” Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the 48th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas at the State Department.

Maduro, who this month won a new six-year term, has responded by blaming the U.S. for the country’s woes and accusing the United States of trying to overthrow him.

Pence will joined at the Monday reception by Sullivan, now deputy secretary of state, and Ambassador to the OAS Carlos Trujillo where they are also expected to reiterate the call for Venezuela to restore democratic institutions.

“President Trump has been clear, the United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” the White House official told McClatchy. “The United States is standing strong with those who fight for the people of Venezuela, and will remember those who sit on the sidelines watching without taking action.”

Suspension from the OAS isolates the once-thriving Venezuela from its allies.

Miami Herald reporter Jim Wyss contributed to this article.

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez