Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez accused the United States of aggression Thursday, during an extraordinary session of the Organization of American States (OAS).
During a fiery speech to the regional body, Rodriguez slammed President Barack Obama for declaring Venezuela a “threat” to the United States, and imposing sanctions on several high-level officials in Caracas.
“History has shown that declarations like this tend to precede military inventions,” she said. Rodriguez also warned the sanctions could be the prelude to an aggressive “economic blockade … as our brother people Cuba have suffered for over 50 years.”
“I emphasize that we are talking about historic facts, we aren’t imagining this, and we're saying that history has repeatedly shown this, and this is a real threat, its not just about (sanctioning) certain officials,” she said.
She continued by arguing the individuals singled out for sanctions were targeted “not for being in a particular situation, but rather because they defended democracy and stability in Venezuela … because they defended the peace in Venezuela.”
The United States government has previously responded to criticism of its sanctions against Venezuela by arguing they are intended to punish individuals for engaging in human rights abuses. U.S. officials have cited the imprisonment of political opposition leaders such as Leopoldo Lopez, claiming the Venezuelan government is cracking down on dissent. Lopez is accused of masterminding a wave of violence in 2014, which left over 40 people dead – mostly government supporters, state security personnel and innocent bystanders. Many were killed when armed anti-government groups took to the streets to torch government buildings, block roads with barricades and attack perceived government supporters.
Rodriguez argued opposition figures accused of supporting the violence should face justice.
“As in any country, when there are acts of violence, there are legal responsibilities to investigate and punish those acts,” she said. “Our task is to preserve our sovereignty.”
The foreign minister also questioned Obama's claim that Venezuela poses a threat to U.S. national security.
“How can they consider Venezuela a threat, how can we be a threat to a powerful country (like the U.S);when we go to other countries, its to cooperate, in solidarity... our army has never left our borders to conquer other territories ... our diplomacy has always been peaceful,” she said.
Despite the sanctions leading to relations between Washington and Caracas slipping to their lowest ebb since President Nicolas Maduro was elected to office in 2013, Rodriguez said Venezuela remains open to dialogue with the Obama administration.
Earlier on Thursday, Ecuador offered to mediate talks between the two countries.
Rodriguez explained, “Last year, President Maduro gave his hand to the U.S. government, we talked ... the only condition Maduro has is that dialogue be with respect, on an equal footing ... on equal terms.”
“We believe in a peaceful solution to any conflicts between states.. that has been, and will (continue to) be our position,” she added.
U.S. Deputy Representative to the OAS Michael Fitzpatrick responded to Rodriguez by defending the sanctions, arguing the designation of Venezuela as a national security threat had been “taken out of context.”
“The US did not create the problems Venezuela faces,” he claimed.
Stating the sanctions aren't part of a broader plan of aggression, he said, “My government does not wish to see a Venezuela that is unstable or in poverty ... we want to see Venezuela thrive and return to a state of prosperity.”
He also claimed “many countries in the region” share Washington's concern over human rights in Venezuela, but didn't name any particular nation. Regional bodies including UNASUR, CELAC and ALBA – which collectively represent almost all of Latin America – have condemned the U.S. sanctions.