UNITED NATIONS – U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Thursday urged the international community to take action to deal with the worsening crisis in Venezuela as the South American nation's embattled president railed against attempts by the U.S. and others to allegedly foment violence in the country.
"The tragic situation in Venezuela calls out for action," Haley said in a statement in which she complained about the lack of action from the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Organization of American States. "The Venezuelan people are starving while their government tramples their democracy."
President Nicolas Maduro's government has rejected U.S. calls for action by the international community. In a press conference Thursday from Caracas, Maduro pointed to a statement signed by 57 countries including China, Russia and South Africa supporting his socialist government and opposing any interference in the country's internal affairs.
"The imperialists have a fatal obsession with us," Maduro said. "We're not going to permit that they turn us into a martyr or that the world crucifies Venezuela."
Nearly three months of political unrest were set off by the attempt by Maduro's government to nullify the opposition-controlled congress in late March. But demonstrations have escalated into a vehicle for airing grievances against the government for triple-digit inflation, food shortages, a rise in crime and Maduro's attempt to rewrite the constitution.
The opposition blames the bloodshed on state security forces using excessive force and on groups of armed, pro-government civilians known as "colectivos." Maduro says far-right extremists are working with criminal gangs to foment the violence.
On Thursday, Maduro praised the country's police and national guardsmen for their "heroic" efforts to maintain public order without the use of firearms. He condemned any excessive use of force while also criticizing the opposition for not renouncing violence and using teen demonstrators as human shields.
Nonetheless, violence broke out in Caracas Thursday afternoon when 22-year-old David Vallenilla died after being shot with a rubber bullet in the thorax at a protest, according to Ramon Muchacho, a Caracas-area opposition mayor. Witness videos showed national guardsmen firing directly at protesters from within close range.
The United States organized the first-ever U.N. Security Council consultations on Venezuela on May 17 to spotlight the worsening crisis. The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said Thursday it has no immediate plans for additional U.N. action.
Haley said at that time that the U.S. intention to spotlight the Venezuelan crisis wasn't to be intrusive or heavy-handed, but to support regional efforts to find a political solution and "show respect for the Venezuelan people" who want free and fair elections, the release of political prisoners, and action to address the worsening humanitarian situation.
She said the Trump administration wants to prevent another conflict like Syria, North Korea or South Sudan.
The statement from the 57 countries welcomed "commendable efforts" to promote dialogue and peace by the 12-member Union of South American Nations and by former presidents of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic and a special envoy of the Holy See. The signatories also supported other Latin American and Caribbean efforts to promote dialogue.
AP Writer Joshua Goodman contributed to this report from Caracas.