Uruguay withdraws from OAS meeting over Venezuela opposition delegation

By Luis Jaime Acosta

MEDELLIN, Colombia (Reuters) - Uruguay on Thursday withdrew from a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) being held in Medellin, Colombia, in protest of the presence of what it said was an illegitimate delegation from Venezuela.

The incident, on the first of two days of meetings, laid bare a lack of consensus in the organization over whether to increase pressure on embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is backed by some member states but called a dictator by others.

Though Venezuela announced its withdrawal from the OAS in April 2017, its political situation has dominated recent assemblies.

The country's opposition, lead by National Assembly head Juan Guaido, appointed Gustavo Tarre as its representative to the body.

Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume a rival interim presidency after rejecting Maduro's 2018 re-election as illegitimate. Many of the 35 members of the OAS recognize Guaido as the country's leader.

"Uruguay considers this an attempt to impose the recognition of this delegation as legitimate representatives of Venezuela - it is no more and no less than a subjugation of the legality of the OAS," Uruguay's vice foreign minister Ariel Bergamino said during the meeting. "There is no other choice but to be against an act of this nature."

"We are withdrawing from this meeting but not from the OAS," Bergamino added.

Mexico said the credentials presented by the opposition delegation did not meet the necessary standards for admittance, while Bolivia said it reserved the right not to recognize resolutions approved while the delegation is present.

Several Maduro-supporting Caribbean countries also expressed dismay, while nations including Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay recognized the delegation.

The opposition delegation's presence showed the broad international recognition of Guaido, U.S. OAS representative Kimberly Breir told the assembly.

Julio Borges, head of the opposition delegation, said countries which back Maduro do so because his government sells them oil at favorable prices.

"Those countries know very well what we have to achieve in Venezuela, very soon - give voice to the Venezuelan people and get Maduro out of power," he said.

Venezuela, home to the world's largest oil reserves, has remained in political limbo as its economic and humanitarian crises have worsened. Shortages of food and medicine have led some four million Venezuelans to flee.

OAS secretary Luis Almagro said on Wednesday the body would seek to increase pressure on Maduro and debate eventual sanctions.

Maduro has accused the OAS, which is based in Washington, of being a pawn of the United States.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Carlos Vargas; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Helen Murphy; Editing by Michael Perry, Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)