CANCUN, Mexico – The United States and Venezuela exchanged harsh words at the Organization of American States general assembly Tuesday, after the U.S. representative said the OAS must pass some kind of resolution on the troubled South American country to remain true to its principles.
John Sullivan, U.S. deputy secretary of state, made an impassioned plea for the 34-nation organization to approve naming a "contact group" of countries to mediate the fierce political and economic crisis that has already cost over 70 lives in Venezuela and reduced much of the population to poverty.
"If we can't take that step forward here, we seriously impair our ability to go forward as an organization. It is the least we can do," Sullivan told the OAS general assembly being held in the Mexican resort of Cancun.
Sullivan described the proposal, which has yet to be voted on, as a plan to create a "group of friends" - a multi-country mediation group like the one that helped end the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s.
The members of the group would be named later, and Sullivan said they would be "balanced" and could include the United Nations or the Vatican. Sullivan said the U.S. wants political prisoners in Venezuela freed, elections held and violence ended.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, who walked out of the meeting Monday but returned Tuesday, said the United States wanted to intervene in Venezuela to take advantage of the country's oil reserves.
Sullivan responded that Rodriguez's comments "can be summarized in three words: distractions, distortions and irrelevancies."
That sparked an angry response from Rodriguez. "I think the only way they (the U.S.) can impose their will is with their Marines, who would be met with a swift response in Venezuela, should they dare" to intervene, she said.
The OAS narrowly failed to pass a resolution calling for an end to Venezuela's political crisis. But Peru and other countries continued Tuesday to mention the desperate situation on Venezuela's streets where at least 70 people have died and more than 1,300 been injured during demonstrations and other unrest.
Rodriguez said of those countries: "If they form part of the litter of lap dogs of imperialism, Venezuela doesn't."
It was all part of Venezuela's long, strange goodbye to the OAS, the first country to decide to leave the group.
Rodriguez said "Venezuela no longer forms part of this organization," and had previously walked out of Monday's session, saying she no longer recognized the OAS or any resolution it might pass. But she was back Tuesday, and has held more press conferences and given more speeches than any other foreign minister.
Venezuela also sent the biggest delegation to the meeting and submitted 10 last-minute resolutions which have little or no chance of passing.
Rodriguez said "Venezuela is leaving very satisfied, Venezuela is leaving victorious," but later added "I'm staying here."
It seems that the government of President Nicolas Maduro, increasingly isolated and under criticism, sees the OAS as one of the last forums where it can get a hearing, no matter how skeptical, for its point of view.