WASHINGTON - The head of the Organization Of American States is calling for an emergency meeting of regional governments to evaluate Venezuela's respect for democracy. The move could lead to the country's suspension from the hemispheric body, and is the first time an OAS head has called into question the democratic credentials of a member state.
In an 132-page document, OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro said Venezuela had suffered an alteration of constitutional order and called for a vote on the matter between June 10 and 20. Argentina has already requested a special meeting of the Permanent Council for Wednesday to discuss the matter, using its role as rotating president.
The socialist country could be suspended from the organization if two-thirds of the organization's 34 member states vote that the country's leadership has gravely undermined democracy there.
Political instability in Venezuela, compounded by a deep economic and institutional crisis due to high crime and shortages of basic goods and public services such as food, medicine, water and electricity, are among the reasons why Almagro decided to invoke the Charter.
In the report, Almagro cited a humanitarian crisis and a lack of citizen security, as well as the dearth of ethical governance, the existence of political prisoners as a result of "the criminalization of protests" and the lack of separation of powers.
The secretary-general also demanded "immediate changes in the actions of the executive branch" and respect for an ongoing recall referendum process to oust the government , in order to avoid falling "immediately into a situation of illegitimacy."
"The continued violations of the Constitution, especially in regards to the balance of power, performance and integration of the judiciary, human rights violations, procedure for the recall referendum and lack of responsiveness regarding the serious humanitarian crisis in the country" means the hemispheric community must proceed with Article 20 of the Charter, says Almagro in the report.
Almagro has recently engaged in a war of words with Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro has accused him of working with the opposition and the U.S. to undermine Venezuela. Almagro responded by calling him a petty dictator.
On Tuesday Maduro responded to the OAS announcement, saying: "Stick your Democratic Charter wherever it fits. I call for a national rebellion in the face of international threats."
Venezuelan exile groups in Miami lauded Almagro’s decision, according to EFE. "Almagro has demonstrated his commitment to freedom and democracy in Venezuela by invoking the activation of the Democratic Charter in a country that violates human rights and has left the democratic framework," Jose Antonio Colina, president of the organization Politically Persecuted Venezuelans in Exile (Veppex), told the Spanish news agency.
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 the 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.
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 searate meetings in the Dominican Republic with Venezuelan officials and government opponents under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, to seek a "framework for a national dialogue," the organization said in a statement.
With information from AP and wires