MEDELLIN, Colombia (AP) — A representative for Uruguay walked out of a meeting of regional countries in Latin America on Thursday leading a protest over the participation of diplomats appointed by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
Guaidó and President Nicolás Maduro have been locked in a months-long struggle for control over the once-wealthy oil nation amid a deepening political and financial crisis.
Uruguay has been among a small number of South American nations that has maintained a neutral stance amid the power struggle, pressing for a negotiated resolution to the crisis through dialogue.
“If this assembly validates these credentials, it is headed toward recognizing a new government in Venezuela,” Ariel Bergamino, Uruguay’s undersecretary of foreign affairs, said before walking out.
The comments came during an annual meeting in Medellin, Colombia, of the Organization of American States, a body formed in 1948 to foster solidarity between its members. Its headquarters are in Washington and Venezuela was a founding member.
Julio Borges, Guaidó’s appointment to the organization, played down Uruguay’s protest. Borges is also a member of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly, living in exile in Colombia out of concern for his safety.
“They know very well that Venezuela is suffering a very big crisis,” Borges told The Associated Press. “We have to give a voice to the Venezuelan people in order to get Maduro out of power and achieve freedom.”
A majority of the organization’s members, including the United States, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil and Peru, have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. They contend Maduro’s reelection a year ago was not valid because strong opposition candidates couldn’t run.
In April, the OAS approved the participation of Guaidó delegates, while expelling the diplomats appointed by Maduro, who had already expressed their intention to withdraw from the organization.
Critics of Venezuela’s new delegation are in the minority of the body’s members. Diplomats from Mexico, Nicaragua and Bolivia were among those saying they would not recognize action taken by the body on any vote that includes Guaidó delegates.
Guaidó earlier this year launched a campaign to oust Maduro. Guaidó won support from more than 50 of nations. Maduro maintains backing from Russia and Cuba.
The OAS meeting is expected to focus on Venezuela’s crisis, including the impact from an exodus of Venezuelans into neighboring nations. The regional body is also expected to take diplomatic measures to pressure the Maduro government to accept free elections with international monitoring.
In a sign of Venezuela’s unrest, chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab said Thursday that he is charging 14 people in connection with what officials say was a thwarted coup plot to assassinate Maduro and take over the country.
Officials on Wednesday said the derailed plot was planned to unfold June 23.
They said a network of retired and active members of Venezuela’s police and military personnel sought to steal a helicopter to liberate Raúl Baduel, a jailed former defense minister, and install him as the country’s leader.
The plot also included blocking key roads, taking over a Caracas air base and raiding weapons from the Central Bank of Venezuela, officials said. First lady Cilia Flores and Diosdado Cabello, leader of Venezuela’s governing socialist party, were among those also targeted for assassination, officials said.
The chief prosecutor said Baduel, who remains jailed, and the others are being accused with terrorism and treason, among other charges.
Other named suspects include retired Maj. Gen. Cliver Alcala, a former military collaborator of the late President Hugo Chávez. He has been out of the country for several years.
Associated Press writer Manuel Rueda reported this story in Medellin, Colombia, and AP writer Scott Smith reported from Caracas, Venezuela.