CANCÚN, Mexico — Venezuela’s foreign minister walked out of a meeting of diplomats from across the Americas gathered in Mexico on Monday to discuss the ongoing political crisis in the South American country.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez claimed that more members of the Organization of American States were considering leaving the group, which has been putting pressure on Venezuela’s 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,” Rodríguez said as she left the meeting being held in the Mexican resort of Cancun.
Venezuela had earlier announced its intention to leave the Washington-based OAS, and Rodriguez said “we know of other countries who are beginning to consider leaving,” though she would not name them. 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 nearly 70 people dead, hundreds injured and thousands detained in months of protests. But so far the nations of the Western Hemisphere have been unable to reach consensus on the matter.
As the meeting took place, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, to protest against President Nicolás Maduro’s government.
National guard troops and riot police fired rubber bullets to try to disperse the crowds. Protesters in Caracas chanted “Who are we? Venezuela! What do we want? Freedom!”
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 warfare and encouraging the protests.
Rodríguez suggested the talk of suffering in Venezuela was a pretext for U.S. intervention.
“There has been a lot of talk of a humanitarian crisis … it is another pretext to try to bring about an intervention in Venezuela,” Rodríguez said at the start of talks aimed at approving a resolution on the problems in Venezuela.
Earlier Monday in Caracas, groups of government supporters and opponents exchanged shoves and blows outside the offices of Venezuela’s attorney general, who has opposed the planned constitutional overhaul in a break with the Maduro administration.