A demonstrator and boy wearing a helmet and holding a shield, walk on a blocked highway as a barricade burns in the background, during a national sit-in against President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, May 15, 2017. Opposition leaders are demanding immediate presidential elections. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

U.S. worried crisis worsening in Venezuela

Trump administration wants to prevent another conflict like Syria

The United States called Wednesday’s first-ever UN Security Council consultations on Venezuela because the crisis is getting worse and the Trump administration wants to prevent another conflict like Syria, North Korea or South Sudan, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said.

Venezuelan Ambassador Rafael Ramirez strongly rejected the U.S. bringing his country’s political dispute to the United Nations’ most powerful body and accused Washington of again trying “to interfere in our domestic issues.”

Haley said the U.S. intention wasn’t to be “intrusive” or “heavy-handed” but to support regional efforts to find a political solution and “show respect for the Venezuelan people” who want free and fair elections, the release of political prisoners and the worsening humanitarian situation addressed.

“We think if that doesn’t happen we will certainly be hearing this in the Security Council because it will be a real problem — not just in the region but internationally,” Haley told reporters after the closed-door briefing and discussions that lasted over 1 1/2 hours.

Nearly two months of political unrest were set off by the attempt by President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government to nullify the opposition-controlled congress in late March. But demonstrations have escalated into a vehicle for airing grievances against the government for triple-digit inflation, food shortages and a rise in crime.

The opposition blames the bloodshed on state security forces using excessive force and on groups of armed, pro-government civilians known as “colectivos.” Maduro says far-right extremists are working with criminal gangs to foment the violence.

Haley said the meeting was aimed at conflict prevention, not council action, and sought to put light on what is happening in Venezuela.

“We’ve seen 150 political prisoners, over 1,500 arrests and clearly we’re starting to see serious instability in Venezuela,” she said. “We’ve been down this road with Syria, North Korea, South Sudan, Burundi, with Burma,” which is now known as Myanmar.

Haley said rather than waiting for the Venezuela situation to become so serious that there has to be a Security Council meeting, “Why not try and stop a problem before it starts?”

Venezuela’s Ramirez accused the United States of pushing to “intervene in our country,” as his government alleges Washington has tried to do in the past. He called Venezuela’s problems a domestic matter and said Maduro’s government is trying to resolve them and will not allow any outside interference.

“We will never be a threat against the peace and security in international or the regional level,” he insisted.

Ramirez stressed that Venezuela is not on the Security Council agenda and said many council members “disagree with the U.S.” and back his government’s position that it shouldn’t be there.

International pressure on the troubled South American nation has been increasing, with the Organization of American States voting Monday to hold a rare foreign ministers’ meeting later this month to discuss the crisis. Venezuela officially notified the OAS on April 28 that it intends to quit the regional group.

Britain’s UN ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, said it is “absolutely right” that the OAS and the 33-nation Community of Latin American and Caribbean States are taking the lead, “but it is also right that the Security Council, charged as we are on the maintenance of security and peace … keep a very close eye on the situation.”

He warned that if things go wrong, Venezuela could “descend into conflict” and threaten international peace and security. “And so we need to act, in whatever way we can, starting with our discussion today,” he said.

Ramirez dismissed Britain, saying it was following the U.S.

He said Venezuela prefers the regional approach, noting that Pope Francis has offered help and the former presidents of the Dominican Republic, Spain and Panama are talking to both sides. He said Maduro’s government also believes in CELAC and UNASUR, which comprises 12 South American nations.

UN Ambassador Sacha Llorentty Soliz of Bolivia, whose government is an ally of Venezuela, said Wednesday’s council meeting interfered with regional efforts to resolve the political dispute.

“It doesn’t help at all because the United States is not a mediator,” he said.

He said the U.S. supports the Venezuelan opposition and “that’s why this meeting instead of helping solving the problem — it will really be an obstacle.”

There was no statement from the council after the meeting, reflecting the division among members.

Uruguay’s U.N. ambassador, Elbio Rosselli, this month’s council president, said his government favours a regional approach and is working with many other countries to help the political factions in Venezuela resolve the crisis.

“If the Colombians could overcome 50 years of war in a peaceful manner, I’m pretty sure our brothers in Venezuela can take the lesson and do likewise,” Rosselli said.

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press

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