Venezuela To Leave OAS, Death Toll Climbs After Dueling Rallies

Apr 26, 2017
Originally published on April 27, 2017 2:13 am

Updated 2 a.m. Thursday ET:

Venezuela on Thursday will begin the process of withdrawing from the Organization of American States. The country on Tuesday threatened to withdraw from the OAS after accusing the Washington-based group of meddling in its internal affairs. "As ordered by President Nicolas Maduro, we will present a letter of resignation from the Organization of American States, and we will begin a procedure that will take 24 months," Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said in a televised statement. The announcement was criticized by Venezuelan opposition leaders.

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It has been just under a month since dissatisfaction with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro erupted into massive protests — but if Wednesday's street skirmishes in Caracas are any indication, the unrest is unlikely to end soon.

Nearly 30 people have been killed in the demonstration since the end of March, when the pro-Maduro Supreme Court tried to nullify an opposition-dominated legislature — but then quickly backpedaled.

Opposition leaders announced three of the deaths Wednesday, according to The Associated Press, which reports that the total death toll has climbed to 29. Reuters and the BBC place that number at 27 and 26, respectively.

Anti-Maduro demonstrators have been calling for elections, which the president indefinitely postponed late last year, as well as an end to the shortages that have left Venezuelans struggling to obtain necessities like bread.

"I want everything to end: the hunger, the murders, the corruption, all the ills we are suffering," student Ricardo Ropero told Reuters at a march in Caracas. "We have to stay in the street until there is change. We are the majority."

The focal point of demonstrators' efforts Wednesday was the national ombudsman's office in Caracas. They marched on the office to express frustration with the agency, which is responsible for investigating complaints against the government. Protesters say the office has done little to represent their interests.

But before they could get to the building, the AP reports the marchers were turned back by security forces that lobbed tear gas on them.

At the same time, the protesters were not alone. Maduro's supporters also took to the streets en masse, clad in red and reciting slogans to counter what they see as the wanton destabilization of the president's regime. As the BBC notes, Maduro and his allies assert that opposition leaders have been resorting to looting and violence in order to seize power themselves.

Still, Maduro faces resistance from outside his borders, as well.

General Motors stopped its operations in the country last week after its plant there "was unexpectedly taken by the public authorities, preventing normal operations," the massive American automaker said in a statement — though, as NPR's Camila Domonoske reports, the details of the takeover might be murkier than they first appear.

And the Organization of American States, an organization of Western Hemisphere countries based in the U.S., has severely criticized the manner in which the Venezuelan president has grappled with his opposition — criticism that Venezuela has rebutted by threatening to withdraw from the organization.

"We're not going to continue allowing legal and institutional violations that are arbitrary and surpass any moral, ethical and licit boundary that nations in this regional organization should respect," Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said Tuesday, according to the AP.

It is unclear what Venezuela's withdrawal from the OAS would mean for the organization, which has never had a member state leave since its charter was signed in 1948.

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