April 26, 2017 / 2:44 AM / 7 months ago

Venezuela warns could leave OAS regional group

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela warned on Tuesday it would leave the Organization of American States (OAS) if the regional body goes ahead with a possible Foreign Ministers meeting to debate the state of the crisis-stricken nation.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures while he speaks during a meeting with supporters in Caracas, Venezuela April 25, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Leftist-run Venezuela and the OAS have been clashing for months, and the OAS head has said Venezuela should be suspended from the body if it does not hold general elections “as quickly as possible” amid a punishing economic crisis.

The Washington-based organisation said earlier on Tuesday that its permanent council would hold a meeting on Wednesday “for the ‘Consideration of the draft resolution convening a Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs’ on the situation in Venezuela.”

It said the meeting had been called for by more than a dozen countries, including the United States and regional heavyweight Brazil.

“Should a Foreign Minister meeting of the Organization of American States take place without the approval and consent of the Venezuelan government, I have received instructions from the head of state, President Nicolas Maduro, to start the process of removing Venezuela from this organisation,” Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez told state TV on Tuesday night.

Maduro’s government views the OAS as a pawn of hostile U.S. policy and has often dismissed its head Luis Almagro, a former Uruguayan foreign minister, as a turncoat working for its ideological adversaries in Washington.

For Venezuela to be suspended from the OAS, a two-thirds vote in the 34-nation OAS’ General Assembly would be needed. Caracas can count on support from many poor Central American and Caribbean nations that receive Venezuelan crude under favourable terms.

Leftist allies like Bolivia and Ecuador would also throw their weight behind Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader who rose to become foreign minister under his late mentor Hugo Chavez.

Still, politics in South America is shifting towards the right, with Argentina, Brazil and Peru all losing leftist governments in recent months.

Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Richard Pullin

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