Even before the Organization of American States’ annual General Assembly formally opened Monday evening in Cancun, Mexico, Venezuela’s political and economic crisis commanded center stage.
At a morning news conference, OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro denounced the erosion of legislative and judicial independence and human rights under Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. “It would be prudent to resolve” those problems as soon as possible," Almagro said.
Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, announced that his country would seek backing for an OAS consensus resolution on how to stabilize the South American country.
“We believe there is real deterioration of democratic conditions in Venezuela,” said Videgaray, who joined Almagro at the news conference.
Anti-government protests have rocked Venezuela almost daily for more than two months, with demonstrators demanding that Maduro schedule elections, free political prisoners and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to ease widespread shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods. More than 60 people have died in the demonstrations.
The OAS had taken up Venezuela’s volatility in a special session last month at its Washington headquarters but failed to reach agreement among its 34 member nations about how to proceed. Venezuela and some of its allies – mostly poor countries that have benefited from discounted Venezuelan oil – accused the OAS and the United States of trying to interfere with its domestic affairs.
With foreign delegations arriving from throughout the Western Hemisphere, security was tight at the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort, the assembly site. Outside its entrance, troops with helmets and shields stood shoulder to shoulder in the Monday morning rain. The conference will continue through Wednesday.
The U.S. delegation includes Francisco Palmieri, acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and Kevin Sullivan, representative to the OAS. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week cancelled his plans to attend, instead focusing on de-escalating Middle East tensions involving Qatar.
Almagro, at the morning news conference, said OAS needed to address regional problems including drug trafficking and illegal migration.
But Venezuela loomed large.
“The OAS has to react. It has to issue a stronger statement,” Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Luis Florido told VOA at the gathering. He added that it was “very important for all countries in the Caribbean to understand that if Venezuela isn’t stable, isn’t peaceful, isn’t prosperous, it will be impossible for our country to support their countries.”
Meanwhile, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez wrote Saturday on her Twitter account that the U.S. State Department "deployed its ambassadors in the region to attack Venezuela. Let's go harder to defeat them in the OAS. "
In Venezuela, anti-government protesters continued demonstrating Monday in the capital city of Caracas. Lilian Tintori, wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, told a VOA reporter, “We are in the street so that they do not take away the country.”
VOA Spanish and Creole services contributed to this article, with Gesell Tobias, Celia Mendoza, Mitzi Macias and Jean-Pierre Leroy reporting from Cancun and Alvaro Algarra and Carolina Alcalde reporting from Caracas.