OAS urges dialogue as Venezuela tensions flare

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By Luis Alonso Lugo and Christine Armario, AP

WASHINGTON — Members of the Organization of American States (OAS) urged Venezuela’s government and opposition to settle their differences through dialogue Tuesday, backing off from threats to suspend the socialist-run country and providing President Nicolas Maduro some short-term relief as he struggles to rescue the polarized nation from crisis.

The contentious special meeting at the OAS headquarters in Washington underscored the difficulty that regional governments increasingly concerned about Venezuela’s crisis face as they try to force the unpopular Maduro to cede some power to his opponents and restore badly damaged democratic norms.

The outcome also showed the degree to which Venezuela, even crippled by triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of basic goods, can still count on an alliance with a few small Caribbean nations whose support was won through years of subsidized oil shipments.

In an angry speech, Venezuelan Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Samuel Moncada took aim at a coalition of OAS member states pushing Venezuela to hold elections, accusing them of infringing on his nation’s sovereignty.

The meeting grew so tense that Mexico’s representative stood up from his seat and threatened to leave after another leader characterized Moncada’s lashing as a “country-by-country harangue.”

“Stick to the point,” Mexican Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba told Moncada tersely in English.

“I came here to say what I need to say,” Moncada said after being repeatedly scolded. “I don’t care about their reaction.”

The meeting was called to debate a 75-page report issued two weeks ago by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro in which he characterized Venezuela as a country where rule of law no longer exists and called on member nations to suspend Venezuela unless elections are held soon.

Hours before the meeting began, Maduro’s opponents decried what they see as another power grab: a surprise ruling by the government-stacked Supreme Court threatening to impose limits on the immunity enjoyed by opposition members of congress.

“Once aberrations of this gravity begin we do not know where they will end,” the U.S. representative at the OAS, Michael Fitzpatrick, said about the ruling.