Santiago (AFP) - Chile, Argentina and Uruguay appealed Friday for an "effective political dialogue" in Venezuela amid a deepening crisis in the leftist-led South American country.
In a statement, the three countries made "an urgent appeal for an effective political dialogue and a genuine civic understanding among all the political and social actors in this sister nation."
The expression of concern came amid a mounting confrontation between the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition lawmakers and others demanding a recall vote.
Maduro imposed a 60-day state of emergency earlier this week and on Friday the military was preparing to stage the country's largest ever exercises in a show of force aimed at deterring a foreign intervention.
The country, an OPEC member with the world's largest oil reserves, is in free-fall with widespread shortages of food and medicine, runaway inflation and rampant crime.
The opposition has gathered what it says are 1.8 million signatures from Venezuelans seeking a recall referendum allowed under the constitution, but Maduro has dismissed the effort as not viable this year.
A trio of foreign mediators -- former leaders of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic -- were in Caracas to try to start up a dialogue.
But former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero warned Thursday the path would be "a long, hard and difficult" one.
Friday's statement by Argentina, Chile and Uruguay was signed by their respective foreign ministers.
It said they were prepared to take part in a "group of friends" in support of the "urgent task" of getting both sides to the negotiating table.
But it warned, "Venezuela's problems should be resolved by the Venezuelans themselves, in keeping with their institutions and observing its international commitments to the full protection of human rights and individual liberties."