Crisis-hit Venezuela's economic and political problems are keeping world leaders away from a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement that was supposed to hit its full stride on Saturday.

Only eight heads of state have confirmed their presence for the two days of meetings taking place on the Caribbean island of Margarita, including the leaders of Iran, Cuba and Zimbabwe. More than 30 heads of state attended the last summit of the Cold War-era group in Iran in 2012.

President Nicolas Maduro had been touting the meeting as an opportunity to solidify his international credentials.

But the low turnout after months of shuttle diplomacy handing out invitations is likely to embolden Maduro's opponents, who are pushing for a recall referendum to remove him from office before his term ends in 2019.