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US, Venezuela Delegates Clash at OAS Summit


U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan speaks during the OAS 47th General Assembly in Cancun, Mexico, June 20, 2017.

Venezuela’s political crisis loomed over the Organization of American States’ General Assembly meeting Tuesday, as heavy as the rain soaking this resort city.

Foreign ministers from OAS’ 34 member nations failed to reach agreement the previous day on a joint statement of how to help stabilize the South American country, rocked by more than two months of anti-government protests in which more than 70 people have died.

One proposal, introduced last month at a special OAS meeting on Venezuela, would involve assembling a "contact group" of representatives to work with the socialist-run country on restoring peace and democratic norms.

"This is a moment of challenge for this organization to prove its relevancy … to take a modest step that has been proposed," John Sullivan, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, told the assembly Tuesday. "If we can’t take that step forward here, we seriously impair our ability to go forward as an organization."

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez looks on as she listens during the OAS 47th General Assembly in Cancun, Mexico, June 20, 2017.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez looks on as she listens during the OAS 47th General Assembly in Cancun, Mexico, June 20, 2017.

'A swift response'

Venezuela’s foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, accused the United States of seeking intervention to benefit from her country’s oil reserves.

"I think the only way [U.S. officials] can impose their will is with their Marines, who would be met with a swift response in Venezuela," she said.

Rodriguez, who walked out of the summit Monday, berated diplomats who endorsed oversight for her country and President Nicolas Maduro’s government. Peru and other countries that have condemned Venezuela’s government "form part of the litter of lap dogs of imperialism," she said.

The Venezuelan foreign minister again emphasized that her country would go through with its plan to exit the OAS, a two-year process that it announced in April to protest what it considers OAS interference in the country’s internal affairs.

Anti-government street protests have roiled Venezuela almost daily since April 1, just after the country’s Supreme Court tried to strip the National Assembly of its legislative powers. Maduro’s political foes have called for him to schedule long-overdue elections, free political prisoners and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Monday brought the most recent fatality in clashes among Maduro opponents, government security forces and its backers. A 17-year-old man was shot in the chest during a demonstration in Caracas’ Altimara neighborhood.

FILE - National Assembly lawmaker Diosdado Cabello listens to Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami at a rally opposing the United States and possible OAS sanctions, in Caracas, Venezuela, March 28, 2017.
FILE - National Assembly lawmaker Diosdado Cabello listens to Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami at a rally opposing the United States and possible OAS sanctions, in Caracas, Venezuela, March 28, 2017.

End to parliamentary immunity?

In that capital city on Tuesday, Diosdado Cabello, a Venezuelan lawmaker and Maduro supporter, said the government would go ahead with its plan to have a citizen assembly rewrite the constitution beginning in late July.

Cabello said one proposal for the citizen assembly would be to strip parliamentary immunity from any congressional representative opposing the government.

Also Tuesday, Maduro announced new leadership for Venezuela’s defense ministry and National Guard. The AFP news agency quoted Maduro as saying General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, heading defense, was "a loyal man, a moral man."

The president also said General Antonio Benavides Torres, leading the Guard, would undertake "new responsibilities and battles."

Venezuela’s political crisis has overshadowed an OAS assembly agenda that includes regional challenges such as drug trafficking, illegal migration and limited leadership opportunities for women.

VOA’s Gesell Tobias, Celia Mendoza, Mitzi Macias and Jean-Pierre Leroy contributed to this report from Cancun, and Alvaro Algarra reported from Caracas.

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