Colombia joined 13 other American nations on Thursday to express its concern about and offer to help solve a deepening political, social and economic crisis in neighboring Venezuela.
The neighbor to the east has been caught in a downward spiral ever since socialist President Nicolas Maduro took office in 2013.
In spite of being Latin America’s largest oil producer, the country is now suffering gasoline shortages on top of already existing shortages in food and medicine.
Meanwhile, the country’s government is engaged in a tense political struggle with the opposition-controlled national assembly and has gone as far as to imprison some of the country’s opposition leaders.
Last week, the president of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, called on member nations to suspend Venezuela from the inter-American body and urged Maduro to hold general elections “as soon as possible.”
In a response, Colombia and the 13 other American countries said they consider Venezuela’s suspension “a last resort.”
“Before such decision all diplomatic efforts must have been exhausted within a reasonable time frame,” the 14 governments said.
The government did urge Maduro to release the opposition politicians they consider political prisoners, “recognize the legitimacy of the decisions of the National Assembly, and that an electoral calendar is set up that includes postponed elections.”
Colombia has had a tense relationship with its neighbor for years and has frequently been accused by the Maduro administration of being part of a plot to topple his elected government.
Venezuela even closed the border last year and expelled thousands of Colombians in a widely rejected move to improve security in the border region that is plagued by drug trafficking and smuggling.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has made extensive efforts to avoid an escalation of tensions, particularly because of the neighbor’s support for ongoing peace talks with Marxist ELN and FARC rebels that are sympathetic to the “Bolivarian” government in Caracas.
At the same time, the head of state is pressured by the conservative opposition that considers Maduro a dictator and has aligned with Venezuela’s opposition and on numerous occasions.