Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela government condemns 'international bullying'

Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodriguez attend the OAS 46th General Ordinary Assembly in Santo Domingo on June 14, 2016. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said Venezuela was a free and sovereign nation

The Venezuelan foreign minister has said her country is "a victim of international bullying" as a political and economic crisis grows.

Delcy Rodriguez was speaking at the general assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS).

International pressure is building on Venezuela to resolve its problems.

Supplies of food and medicine are running short, with the opposition blaming President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

Fight over signatures

On 2 May, opposition leaders handed the National Electoral Council (CNE) a petition with almost two million signatures demanding that a referendum be held to recall Mr Maduro.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has been the driving force behind the recall referendum

After a series of delays and cancelled meetings, the CNE announced on Friday that its scrutiny of the signatures suggested that 600,000 of them were fraudulent.

But even with those 600,000 signatures deducted, the opposition has more than six times the number of signatures needed at this early stage of the process.

The CNE announced that the remaining 1.3 million signatories would be asked to verify their identities by having their fingerprints checked at CNE offices between 20 and 24 of June.

But on Monday the government asked the Supreme Court to reject the petition, alleging widespread fraud.

The government has also said that it will not hold the referendum this year.

The timing of the referendum is key. If it is held by 10 January 2017 and President Maduro loses, a new election will be called.

If it is held after that date and the vote goes against him, his vice-president - who is loyal to Mr Maduro - will take over and remain in power until the end of the presidential term, in January 2019.

Speaking at the OAS general assembly in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, US Secretary of State John Kerry called on the Venezuelan government to "honour its own constitutional mechanisms" by allowing a "fair and timely recall referendum".


OAS

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The OAS headquarters are in Washington, DC
  • Founded in 1948 as a body to promote regional solidarity and co-operation
  • Has 34 participating member states in the Caribbean and North, Central and South America
  • Current Secretary General is Uruguayan former Foreign Minister Luis Almagro

Mr Kerry called the situation in Venezuela "deeply troubling".

He said he was joining OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and other international leaders in calls for President Maduro to "release political prisoners, respect freedom of expression and assembly, [and] alleviate shortages of food and medicine".

Ms Rodriguez responded by saying that Venezuela's internal affairs would be settled by Venezuelans.

She also hit out at Mr Almagro, whom she again accused of being "an agent of Washington".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Venezuelan government officials say OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro is a US spy

Mr Almagro earlier this month asked for an emergency OAS meeting to be held to discuss the crisis in Venezuela.

In a 132-page letter, Mr Almagro argued that Venezuela had suffered an "unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order".

After the session, both Venezuela and the US said they would launch a new round of talks.

Mr Kerry said he would send a senior US envoy to Venezuela as soon as possible.

In a televised broadcast, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said the country had agreed to a new dialogue with the US.

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