A group of 14 nations on Thursday urged Venezuela to hold elections and release political prisoners, in a joint statement that kept open the option of seeking to suspend the South American country from the Organization of American States.
The statement, which Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray earlier in the day described as aimed at encouraging Venezuela to “re-establish democracy,” called for dialogue and negotiation to resolve a crisis in the oil-exporting country, which is suffering severe food and fuel shortages.
Suspending Venezuela from the OAS was a last resort, the nations said, and something that should be avoided unless all diplomatic efforts have been exhausted.
“We reiterate that inclusive and effective dialogue is the right path to achieve lasting solutions to the challenges faced by the Venezuelan people,” the statement said.
The group, which includes regional powerhouses the United States, Mexico, Canada and Brazil, also called on Venezuela to recognize the legitimacy of the country’s national assembly, which has been defanged by the government of President Nicolas Maduro since the opposition won a majority in 2015.
The pressure by countries including several former Venezuelan allies follows a call by the head of the OAS to expel Venezuela if it does not quickly hold general elections.
Luis Almagro, secretary general of the OAS and a former foreign minister of Uruguay, calls Maduro’s government a “dictatorship.” Earlier this month he said Venezuela should be suspended for violating the regional bloc’s “democratic charter” if it does not quickly comply.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States was concerned with the state of democracy in Venezuela.
“Let’s be clear, we’re not pushing for Venezuela’s expulsion from the OAS at this time. We do think that the OAS is the appropriate venue to deal with the situation in Venezuela,” Toner told a briefing for reporters.
“We urge the Venezuelan government to comply with the constitution … and hold elections as soon as possible.”
Mexico’s decision to openly take a stance on the situation in Venezuela is a shift from a usual preference by Latin America’s second-largest economy not to interfere in other countries’ affairs.
“We should not continue to be indifferent, we cannot continue to be indifferent,” Videgaray said earlier on Thursday, emphasizing that Mexico would respect Venezuela’s sovereignty and act according to international law and in agreement with the countries of the Americas.
Delcy Rodriguez, Venezuela’s foreign minister, accused Washington of leading the new push to isolate her country, which has been at loggerheads with the United States since the left-wing government of the late President Hugo Chavez.
“What are they trying? To wound Venezuela?” Rodriguez said on Twitter shortly before the statement was released.
“We will denounce these actions country by country. We will not allow any aggression against our sacred homeland.”
The declaration by the 14 nations called for the separation of powers, the rule of law and the establishment of an electoral calendar for postponed elections.
Venezuela’s election board in October suspended the opposition drive for a recall referendum against Maduro despite the country’s crushing economic crisis, the government’s unpopularity and public opinion in favor of a plebiscite.
Venezuela also delayed until 2017 elections due in December for state governorships.
Suspension of Venezuela from the OAS would require a vote by two thirds of the 34 countries in the bloc’s General Assembly. Venezuela has numerous allies in the Americas, especially among small countries that receive subsidized oil from Venezuela, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.