The head of the Organization Of American States on Tuesday called for an emergency meeting of regional governments to evaluate Venezuela's respect for democracy, a move that could lead to the country's suspension from the hemispheric body. Luis Almagro said Venezuela had suffered grave alterations of democratic order and called for a vote on the matter in the coming weeks.
The populist ruled country could be suspended from the organization if two-thirds of its 34 member states vote that the country's leadership has gravely undermined democracy there. Caracas has lost the support of diplomatic heavyweights Brazil and Argentina following their recent political shifts from ideological oriented positions.
But Venezuela still enjoys strong support from small Caribbean and Central American nations, including those who benefit from preferential oil and fuel sales, which could ensure it a numerical advantage in any vote.
A statement from the Washington-based OAS said Almagro was invoking the body's Inter-American Democratic Charter and had requested a meeting of the permanent council between June 10-20 to analyze the situation in Venezuela.
Opposition leaders are seeking to remove president Nicolas Maduro through a recall referendum, and accuse government loyalists in the elections council of stalling the process.
Almagro has been feuding with Maduro, whose government immediately denounced the new measure. Communications Minister Luis Jose Marcano lambasted Almagro on state television, calling him a puppet.
Venezuela is under attack by economic powers because we have the world's largest oil reserves, he said.
Maduro himself seemed to signal a split with the organization, urging people to push it out of the Americas as a whole. We are calling for a great movement to defend peace and independence against foreign interventionism, he said.
Luis Almagro, a former Uruguayan foreign minister with ex president Jose Mujica, has called Maduro a petty dictator, accusing him of disrupting democracy by blocking the opposition-controlled congress and putting loyalists in the Supreme Court.
Venezuela views the OAS as a pawn of hostile U.S. policy, and Maduro has dismissed Almagro as a turncoat (traitor and CIA agent) working for its ideological adversaries in Washington. Almagro during his time with Mujica was very close to Chavism and the Venezuelan regime.
Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress recently asked Almagro to exercise his right to call for a vote on whether the country had violated democratic principles.
Tensions have been building in this deeply polarized country as the economy continues to fall apart and the ruling party blocks the opposition from legislating in congress and holding marches through downtown Caracas.
Maduro blames the drop in oil prices on an economic war by foes. Opponents say the situation is the product of 17 years of failed socialist policies begun by his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
The country saw weeks of bloody street protests in 2014 followed by formal talks between the two sides, which broke down and were never reinitiated.
Last week, a group of former presidents held secret meetings in the Dominican Republic with Venezuelan officials and government opponents. The two sides did not meet face-to-face, but the mere fact of the meeting was major news in Venezuela.