President Nicolás Maduro is mounting a vigorous counteroffensive following the launch of an effort by the head of the Organization of American States to get the regional body to suspend Venezuela for failing to respect democratic principles.
The tone and words used on both sides, however, suggest that the stand-off is as much personal as it is political.
On Tuesday OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro called for an emergency meeting of the hemisphere's governments in the upcoming weeks in order to evaluate Venezuela's fulfillment of the organization's Democratic Charter, which is a prerequisite for membership. Almagro cited "grave alterations of the democratic order" in Venezuela.
The push from Almagro comes as Venezuela's government is struggling in the face of a major and worsening economic crisis, which includes the world's highest inflation rate, constant blackouts, and babies dying in hospitals for lack of basic care. President Maduro — who was handed the leadership of the country's so-called Bolivarian Revolution by his hugely popular and charismatic predecessor Hugo Chávez — is also facing an acute political crisis that includes an effort from the emboldened political opposition to force a recall referendum.
Maduro's initial reaction to the possibility of a vote in the Washington-based OAS was characteristically blunt.
"I suggest you put this democratic charter in a very thin tube and find a better use for it, Mr. Almagro," Maduro said. "You can shove that democratic charter wherever it fits. Venezuela has self respect and no one will apply this charter to Venezuela."
Maduro also blamed the move on a US-backed plot to promote a coup against him in Venezuela, and said that he planned to charge the leadership of the country's legislature with treason.
The president underlined the point still further on Wednesday when he called on Venezuelan youth to take to the streets in an "anti-imperialist and anti-Almagro" march.
"Our revolution will be absolved by history," Maduro said before the march. "But you, Almagro, will be condemned to wallow in the deepest mud in hell that is reserved for traitors to the causes of Latin America."
A few hours later supporters did march through the capital, Caracas, chanting slogans such as "Almagro, just fuck off."
The current extreme tension between Maduro and Almagro has been building up ever since the former Uruguayan foreign minister was elected as OAS secretary general in May last year and began accusing the Venezuelan president of disrupting democracy.
It is also an obviously personal matter for both leaders.
Almagro has been a ferocious critic of Maduro's efforts to limit the influence of the legislature since the opposition won control of it through elections last December, and has even thrown his weight behind the push for a recall referendum.
"To refuse the people the possibility of being consulting and deciding transforms you into a just another petty dictator, like so many others we've had in this continent," Almagro wrote in an open letter to Maduro last month that was distributed by the OAS press office.
The letter also set out to rebuff Maduro's frequent allegations that Almagro is a stooge of US imperialism.
"I am not a traitor… but you are, Presidente," the OAS chief wrote. "You betray your people and your supposed ideology with your diatribes without any content, and you are a traitor to political ethics with your lies, and to the most sacred principle of politics which is to submit yourself to the scrutiny of your people."
On Tuesday, Almagro backed his call for an emergency OAS on Venezuela's democratic credentials with a 132-page document spelling out his objection in somewhat more restrained language.
A two-thirds vote in the 34-nation OAS' General Assembly would be needed to suspend Venezuela as it did Cuba between 1962-2009. Havana has chosen not to return given its view, like Venezuela, that the body is servile to Washington.
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