Venezuela threatens to withdraw from OAS

Four more people have died in protests against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, the government said Monday, bringing the total death toll in recent protests and unrest in the country to 26.

Over the last month, tens of thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who they blame for triple-digit inflation, hours-long lines to get food, shortages of medical supplies and a rise in crime.

The opposition accuses the government of using the security forces to repress peaceful protests, and of sending gun-toting thugs to attack them. Maduro has called for renewed dialogue, but opposition leaders have discarded that as an option after earlier talks collapsed in December. "We're simply warming up because the day will come that we are all coming to the street until this government goes", said Gladys Avariano, a 62-year-old lawyer, under an umbrella at the Caracas "sit-in".

Maduro is accused of eroding democracy and plunging the oil-rich economy into chaos; over the past year citizens have suffered from food shortages and a lack of basic services as crime rises.

Demonstrations escalated earlier this month after the Supreme Court moved to strip the parliament of its last vestiges of power.

Political activists and Venezuelan media have reported more deaths, but those have not been confirmed.

Almost 1,500 people have been arrested this month over the protests, with 801 still detained as of Tuesday, according to local rights group Penal Forum.

Red-shirted supporters of Maduro, the 54-year-old former bus driver who succeeded Hugo Chavez in 2013, also rallied on the streets of the capital, punching their fists in the air and denouncing opposition "terrorists".

For Venezuela to be suspended from the OAS, a two-thirds vote in the 34-nation OAS' General Assembly would be needed.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, however, warned that Maduro has given orders to begin the process of withdrawing from the regional group if the OAS ups the ante by calling a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the Venezuelan crisis.

Falling prices for Venezuela's crucial oil exports have slashed its revenues, leading to critical shortages and outbreaks of looting.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, CELAC, will hold an urgent session on May 2 about ongoing opposition violence in Venezuela.

  • Jon Douglas