WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Organization Of American States on Tuesday called 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.
Luis Almagro said Venezuela had suffered "grave alterations of democratic order" and called for a vote on the matter in the coming weeks.
The socialist country could be suspended from the organization if two-thirds of its 34 member states vote that the country's leadership has gravely undermined democracy there.
Almagro has been feuding with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose government immediately denounced the new measure.
Communications Minister Luis Jose Marcano lambasted Almagro on state television, calling him a puppet.
"Venezuela is under attack by economic powers because we have the world's largest oil reserves," he said.
Maduro himself seemed to signal a split with the organization, urging people to push it out of the Americas as a whole.
"We are calling for a great movement to defend peace and independence against foreign interventionism," he said.
Maduro has accused Almagro of working with the opposition and the U.S. to undermine Venezuela. Almagro responded by calling him a petty dictator.
Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress recently asked Almagro to exercise his right to call for a vote on whether the country had violated democratic principles.
Tensions have been building in this deeply polarized country as the economy continues to fall apart and the ruling party blocks the opposition from legislating in congress and holding marches through 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 government opponents. The two sides did not meet face-to-face, but the mere fact of the meeting was major news in Venezuela