Venezuela's allies tell OAS chief not to meddle

Latin American allies came to the defense of President Hugo Chavez's government on Saturday, telling the head of the Organization of American States not to meddle in Venezuela's domestic affairs.

Nations belonging to a left-leaning bloc led by Venezuela and Cuba accused OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza of being a pawn of the U.S. government, which has urged Chavez's administration to allow an international investigation into alleged human rights abuses.

Dozens of Venezuelan students participating in a hunger strike are demanding that Insulza look into their allegations that the government improperly uses judges and prosecutors to persecute Chavez's political adversaries.

"We demand that the secretary-general of the OAS stop his attacks against Venezuela's government," members of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Nations of Our America, or ALBA, said in a joint statement.

Insulza said Friday that he has repeatedly asked for permission to travel to Venezuela, and Washington has said Caracas should let Insulza visit.

ALBA members, including Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said Inzulsa's actions could bring about the possibility of "a dangerous return to the times when the OAS was an instrument of interventionism and colonialism" of the United States.

The hunger strikers have been protesting since Jan. 31 in front of the OAS offices and several embassies in Caracas, and in other cities. The hunger strike began with roughly a dozen students, but organizers say more than 60 people are now participating.

They say they are subsisting on only water and saline solution.

Chavez denies his government persecutes opponents.