The United States and six influential members of the Organization of American States urged the body Monday to reject Venezuelas elections and to begin moves to kick Caracas out of the club.
There is anger among pan-American nations at Venezuela's slide into chaos and autocratic rule, fueled by what US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dubbed President Nicolas Maduro's attempt to "dismantle democracy."
At the opening of the 48th annual meeting of the group, the United States was joined by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Peru in proposing a resolution to reject the result of last month's "unconstitutional" election in Venezuela.
The motion is expected to come up for a vote later Monday or on Tuesday. If it passes as expected, it would set in motion moves that could lead to Venezuela being symbolically suspended from the regional body -- although Caracas has already announced its own intent to pull out.
In May, Maduro was returned to power in a vote that was largely boycotted by the opposition and denounced as an unconstitutional assault on democracy by Washington and most of Venezuela's neighbors.
Maduro's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza was present as the OAS meeting opened to defend his government and to hear Pompeo reiterate the US call for Venezuela's suspension.
Suspending the South American country, which sits on the world's biggest proven oil reserves, "would show that the OAS backs up its words with action and it sends a powerful signal to the Maduro regime, only real elections will allow your government to be included in the family of nations," Pompeo said.
The top American diplomat accused Maduro of "dismantling democracy," and urged more Latin American states to join the US in imposing increased economic and diplomatic sanctions on his administration.
The Venezuelan leader later hit back, accusing the United States of developing a "blackmail campaign" and threatening the governments of Latin America into compliance.
"Every time an OAS General Assembly approaches, we see the same movie," Maduro said during a function in Caracas.
Applause from delegates
"We call on all OAS nations to do this today -- regarding Venezuela -- and in the future wherever necessary for the good of the region and the world," Pompeo said, to applause from some delegates.
Arreaza protested that the situation in Venezuela was a domestic one, placed on the agenda of an international meeting "in a spurious manner" -- but other senior officials from across the Americas disagreed.
"We must have a continent free of dictatorships," OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, a stern critic of Maduro, said as he inaugurated the 48th annual meeting of the organization in Washington.
The draft resolution, seen by AFP, calls on members to reject the results of last month's "unconstitutional" Venezuelan election.
It further urges the body to use "the mechanisms for the preservation and defense of representative democracy" contained in the Inter-American Democratic Charter -- a first step toward suspension.
jpegMpeg4-1280x720Under Article 21 of this charter, an extraordinary general assembly of OAS member states can suspend a country from the body, the main forum for Western Hemisphere countries to develop shared democratic norms.
The political crisis in Venezuela dominated the opening exchanges of the annual meeting in Washington, although Nicaragua also came under fire for its own harsh crackdown on opposition protesters.
A draft text, which should be voted on Tuesday, declared support for the people of Nicaragua and for all parties to engage "constructively in peaceful negotiations to strengthen democratic institutions and hold free, fair and timely elections."