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Organization of American States weighs punishing Venezuela

U.S. joined 13 other governments in pushing Venezuela to hold elections

CARACAS – Diplomats from across the Western Hemisphere met Tuesday to determine whether to punish Venezuela's socialist government for violating the country's democratic order.

The special meeting at the Organization of American States came as the U.S. joined 13 other regional governments in pushing President Nicolas Maduro to hold elections as soon as possible to resolve a power struggle that is taking place against the backdrop of widespread shortages and triple-digit inflation.

While OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has urged Venezuela be suspended for alleged repeated violations of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, many nations are urging dialogue to prod Maduro into freeing "political prisoners," recognize the legitimacy of the opposition-controlled legislature and holding regional elections that were originally slated for last year.

Maduro, who is expected to address thousands of supporters gathered Tuesday at a government-promoted "anti-imperialist" rally in Caracas, has denounced the OAS move as part of an opposition-backed attempt to remove him from office.

"He's a liar, dishonest, bad actor, mercenary and traitor," Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said of Almagro on Monday while speaking to the OAS' permanent council. "He's a dark figure intent on intervening in Venezuela."

Maduro's government has largely ignored Congress since a landslide loss to the opposition in legislative elections in 2015, and suspended a recall campaign aimed at forcing him from office before the 2018 election.

As the unpopular Maduro has struggled to maintain his grip on power, he's jailed around 100 government opponents, accusing them of inciting violence.

The OAS has in the past suspended Cuba, following the triumph of Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, and Honduras, after a 2009 military coup, for breaking with democracy.