US secretary of state John Kerry used his speech at a session of the general assembly of the Organization of American States this Tuesday to call on Venezuela to release political prisoners and hold a referendum that could bring down the country's president. He also appeared to back an effort to revise Venezuela's membership of the body.
Venezuela's foreign minister Delcy Rodríguez shot back that she felt like "the ruler of the world" had spoken.
"Today, Venezuela is the victim of international bullying from the right," she said.
Kerry's speech explicitly threw US weight behind Luis Almagro, the regional bloc's secretary general who has made no secret about his personal animosity for Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro who he has publicly called a "petty dictator."
"The United States joins with secretary general Almagro and others in the international community in calling on the Venezuelan government to release political prisoners, to respect freedom of expression and assembly," Kerry said. "And to honor its own constitutional mechanisms, including a fair and timely recall referendum that is part of that constitutional process."
Almagro has been particularly critical of Maduro's alleged attempts to block an effort by the political opposition to force the referendum with the collection of 1.3 million signatures.
The secretary general had hoped that this week's meeting would include a vote on whether Venezuela is sufficiently "democratic" to remain a member of the continental body.
He postponed the plan until June 23 in Washington after it caused controversy among left-leaning members. Kerry, however, made clear his support for the move, which he said had opened "a much-needed discussion about Venezuela."
The prospect of a vote that could potentially kick Venezuela out of the OAS has triggered a new low in relations between Almagro and Maduro's government, which have never been good.
"You are a promoter of a coup in Venezuela," foreign minister Rodríguez addressed Almagro when talking to reporters on Monday. "You act in favour of opposition factors that intend, through violence, to overthrow a constitutional government."
Venezuela's domestic political crisis, and the associated international tension, comes at a time when the OPEC-member country is also struggling with a deep and painful recession, rampant inflation, and acute shortage of food and medication.
Kerry appeared to directly blame the government for this in his speech in which he urged the government to alleviate the shortages.
"I emphasize the humanitarian dimensions," Kerry said of the critical situation in Venezuela. "Just this morning, we learned of people who are dying in a food line, or waiting to get medical help that they need."
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