Members of the Union of South American Nations meet today to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. With at least 21 dead amid antigovernment protests, will Venezuela get further regional backing?
By Sibylla Brodzinsky, Correspondent / Christian Science Monitor
(SAN CRISTÓBAL, VENEZUELA) As violence intensifies in Venezuela amid month-long antigovernment protests, concern over instability in the oil rich nation is demanding the attention of the region. But Venezuela’s neighbors, many of which have integrated economic or security interests with this South American country, are wary of angering Caracas, which has rejected any interference in its domestic unrest.
At least 21 people have died and hundreds more have been wounded in protests against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Protesters say they are exercising a legitimate right to voice dissent while the government claims it is part of a US-backed plan to destabilize the country.
As clashes mount, and as reports of violent tactics by protesters, government forces, and third-party, pro-government militias increase, observers are asking if it is time for the international community to unite in encouraging concrete steps toward calm in Venezuela.
The handful of countries that have spoken out in recent weeks – calling for peace and talks – were met with Venezuelan reactions that ranged from cutting off all diplomatic ties (Panama) to kicking out embassy staff (the US) to stern warnings (Colombia and Chile).
Last week, the DC-based Organization of American States (OAS) convened at the behest of Panama to discuss the problem and issued a lukewarm statement supporting the Venezuelan government. Today, the foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have called an emergency meeting – encouraged by Venezuela – to address the growing conflict.
The meeting of only South American leaders, a forum initiated by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2008, is expected to release a statement of support for President Maduro.
Venezuela’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with Panama last week after it called for the OAS gathering sent a clear message to neighbors, says Julia Buxton, a Venezuela expert at the Central European University.
“It was a warning shot to other countries not to meddle in what Venezuela considers internal affairs,” Ms. Buxton says.
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