Venezuela walks out of Americas summit in Mexico
CANCUN, Mexico — Venezuela's foreign minister walked out of a meeting of regional diplomats to discuss the South American country's ongoing political crisis as a 17-year-old anti-government demonstrator was shot and killed Monday during clashes with security forces.
As she left the Organization of American States meeting being held in the Mexican resort of Cancun, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez claimed that more OAS members were considering following Venezuela's example and withdrawing from the group, which has been putting pressure on her socialist government to hold timely elections, free political prisoners and scrap a bid to rewrite its constitution.
“Not only do we not recognize this meeting, we do not recognize any resolution coming out of it,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez wouldn't say which countries are considering leaving the Washington-based OAS though Venezuela has received support from other left-leaning governments like Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Leaders of Monday's meeting had suggested they were close to some kind of pronouncement aimed at ending the increasingly bloody political strife in Venezuela, which has left at least 70 people dead and more than 1,300 injured,
But so far the nations of the Western Hemisphere have been unable to reach consensus on the matter.
As the meeting took place, thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, to protest against President Nicolas Maduro's government. Protesters chanted “Who are we? Venezuela! What do we want? Freedom!”
Amid the clashes on Caracas' main highway, 17-year-old Fabian Urbina was killed as the result of a bullet wound to the chest, local authorities said without providing more details. Several others were also reportedly shot.
A small knot of protesters also gathered in the rain on a highway outside the Mexican resort complex where the OAS talks are being held, holding signs saying “No more deaths” and “no more hunger.”
Protester Pablo Quintero said he is a Venezuelan who had to leave his country “looking for food, looking for safety.”
“We are asking for freedom for our political prisoners, and general elections,” Quintero said. “Our people are dying from lack of food, lack of medicine.”
Monday's gathering in Cancun ahead of the OAS annual assembly is the latest of a series of high-profile diplomatic meetings to discuss Venezuela's crisis. But U.S. officials downplayed expectations the gathering will produce any immediate results, insisting it was part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness about Maduro's increasing embrace of one-party rule.
“The government's goal now is clear - to remove the remaining authorities of the freely elected national assembly and replace it with a puppet,” Michael Fitzpatrick, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters during a conference call from Cancun.
Further dampening expectations of a breakthrough, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decided to skip the gathering.
Venezuela has struggled with an imploding economy, rampaging inflation and chronic shortages of food and basic consumer goods, leading to widespread discontent with the Maduro government. The president has accused his political opponents of sabotaging the country through “economic war” and encouraging the protests.
Earlier Monday in Caracas, groups of government supporters and opponents exchanged shoves and blows outside the offices of chief prosecutor Luis Ortega Diaz, who has opposed the planned constitutional overhaul in a break with the Maduro administration.
Her husband German Ferrer, a lawmaker for the ruling socialist party, said the family in recent days has received menacing phone calls and is sometimes photographed by unknown onlookers when in public. Despite the harassment, Ferrer said Ortega has no plans to resign or leave Venezuela, as her detractors have been calling on her to do.
“This doesn't intimidate her,” Ferrer told The Associated Press from outside her office during the tumult. “On the contrary, it simply gives her more strength to continue down the path of legality that she has chosen.”