CARACAS, Venezuela – The head of the Organization of American States called Tuesday for an emergency meeting of regional governments to evaluate Venezuela's respect for democracy, a move that could lead to the country's suspension from the hemispheric body.
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said Venezuela had suffered "grave alterations of democratic order" and called for a vote on the matter in the coming weeks, possibly to coincide with the group's annual meeting next month in the Dominican Republic.
Socialist-ruled Venezuela could be suspended from the Washington-based OAS if two-thirds of its 34 member states voted that the country's leadership has gravely undermined democracy. The last time that occurred was in 2009, when Honduras was suspended following the military's removal of President Manuel Zelaya.
Almagro has been feuding with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who responded Tuesday by calling for a "national rebellion" to fight what he said is international aggression. Maduro said Almagro had overstepped his authority and undermined the very principles of the OAS by trying to dictate policies to a sovereign nation.
"Almagro, stick your democratic charter wherever it fits. Venezuela must be respected," Maduro told a rally of transport workers who support the government.
Maduro has accused Almagro of working with Venezuela's opposition and the U.S. government to undermine his administration. Almagro has called Maduro a petty dictator.
Tensions have been building in deeply polarized Venezuela as the economy continues to fall apart and the ruling party blocks the opposition from legislating in congress and holding marches in downtown Caracas.
The country saw weeks of bloody street protests in 2014 followed by formal talks between the two sides, which broke down and were never reinitiated.
Last week, a group of former presidents held secret meetings in the Dominican Republic with Venezuelan officials and Maduro's opponents. The two sides did not meet face-to-face, but the fact that the mediators passed messages between them was major news in Venezuela.
Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez reported this story in Caracas and AP writer Luis Alonso Lugo reported from Washington.