WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday called on members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to suspend Venezuela from the group and ramp up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro’s government with new sanctions.
Maduro won re-election in a May vote that the Venezuelan opposition, along with the United States and other Latin American nations, have decried as a sham cementing a dictatorship which has devastated a once-prosperous economy.
“Suspension ... would show that OAS backs up its words with action and would send a powerful signal to the Maduro regime: Only real elections will allow your government to be included in the family of nations,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“We seek only what all the nations of the OAS want for our people: A return to the constitutional order, free and fair elections with international observation, and the release of political prisoners,” he told the 34-member OAS’s general assembly in Washington.
Pompeo said OAS member states should apply new sanctions on Venezuela to further isolate it diplomatically after the May 20 election, in which Maduro’s two most popular rivals were barred from standing.
After Pompeo’s comments, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza accused the U.S. of violating international law.
“The aggression against Venezuela is brutal, it’s economic, it’s financial, it’s commercial, it’s political, it’s media, and we are going to press on and we will triumph,” Arreaza told the assembly.
Maduro calls the OAS a pawn of U.S. foreign policy and last year said he would pull Venezuela out of the organisation.
Since the May 20 election, Maduro has begun to free opponents jailed after violent anti-government protests last year, casting the releases as a peace gesture and calling for international dialogue.
Maduro’s critics say the releases are insufficient given around 300 people remain in jail on what the opposition says are trumped up charges intended to stifle dissent.
Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas