Venezuela snubs regional powers as more die in unrest


Caracas (AFP) – Venezuela said on Wednesday it was quitting the Organization of American States in anger at pressure from the bloc over the government’s handling of a deadly political crisis.

The announcement raised international tension over Venezuela, where unrest has left 28 people dead this month.

Echoed by the United States and European Union, the OAS has led an international chorus of concern over the economic and political chaos in the major oil-exporting country.

Bristling at the pressure, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said late Wednesday the government would launch a two-year process to pull out of the Washington-based regional diplomatic grouping.

“Tomorrow, as President Nicolas Maduro has instructed, we will present a letter of complaint to the OAS and we will begin a process that will take 24 months,” she said in a televised address.

  • ‘Interventionist coalition’ –

The OAS has voiced concern about the state of democracy in Venezuela, where socialist President Nicolas Maduro is resisting opposition pressure to remove him from office.

So far this month, 28 people have been killed in anti-government protests that have erupted into clashes with riot police, the attorney general’s department says.

On Wednesday, the permanent council of the 35-nation OAS upped the ante in its discussions about Venezuela.

Its members agreed by a majority of 19 to hold a meeting of their foreign ministers to discuss the crisis.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has branded Maduro — who was elected in 2013 — a “dictator” for stifling the opposition.

Rodriguez branded the OAS an “interventionist coalition” led by Washington.

  • School evacuated –

Venezuela has suffered an economic collapse fueled by a plunge in international prices for its crucial oil exports.

Maduro says the shortages and the protests are part of a US-backed plot to topple him.

His side on Wednesday defied rising pressure from the center right-led opposition.

His supporters staged a counter-rally while police blocked his opponents from marching in central Caracas.

Security forces fired tear gas, water cannons and plastic bullets at protesters who threw stones and petrol bombs.

A 20-year-old man in eastern Caracas became the latest protester to be killed on Wednesday, prosecutors said.

Children were evacuated from a school to escape tear gas, with teachers holding handkerchiefs over the pupils’ faces.

  • Defending ‘revolution’ –

The opposition blames Maduro for severe shortages of food, medicine and other essentials in the oil-rich country.

It wants general elections to rescue the country from the crisis.

“I want to die in a Venezuela that is free of dictatorship,” one protester, Elizabeth Freites, 77, told AFP.

“I have been protesting for nearly a month and I am going to continue until we get out of this situation.”

Maduro has vowed to defend the socialist “revolution” of his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

“We are mobilized for the revolution and for our president,” said one of his supporters, Freddy Gutierrez.

“We call on the opposition to leave the path of violence.”

Maduro himself appeared on television at an unrelated youth event where he called for music and dancing.

A recent survey by pollster Venebarometro indicated that seven out of 10 Venezuelans were opposed to Maduro.

  • ‘Arbitrary detentions’ –

The opposition and government accuse each other of stirring up violence in the protests.

In just under a month of unrest, more than 400 people have been injured, and nearly 1,300 arrested, the attorney general said.

That includes 14 arrested journalists, their union said Tuesday. More than 100 journalists have been assaulted while covering the protests, it added.

Rights group Amnesty International urged the government to stop the “persecution” and “arbitrary detention” of protesters.

    <figure><figcaption>Venezuelan opposition activists clash with riot police during a protest march against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on April 26, 2017
        <span>Copyright AFP JUAN BARRETO</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="694" height="768"><figcaption>Venezuela political unrest
        <span>Copyright AFP Gal ROMA</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="511"><figcaption>A schoolgirl covers her nose and mouth to avoid breathing tear gas shot by police at opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro marching in Caracas on April 26, 2017
        <span>Copyright AFP RONALDO SCHEMIDT</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="477"><figcaption>Members of the National Guard crack down on opposition demonstrators during a march against President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas on April 26, 2017
        <span>Copyright AFP JUAN BARRETO</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="511"><figcaption>A crowd of opposition demonstrators marches through Caracas on April 26, 2017
        <span>Copyright AFP JUAN BARRETO                        </span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="432"><figcaption>Venezuela opposition defiant as protesters shot dead
        <span>Copyright AFP Jesus Olarte, Leo Ram&iacute;rez.-</span>
      </figcaption></figure><figure><video width="696" height="392"><source src="" type="video/mp4"></source></video></figure>