Summit host yanks Venezuela's invitation over early election

Maria Angela HolguinThe Associated Press
Peru's Foreign Minister Cayetano Aljovin speaks surrounded by other Foreign Ministers of the Lima Group after a private meeting concerning Venezuela in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. The Lima Group met to weigh further action against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's administration after it unilaterally set the end of April as the date for elections, over the protest of the opposition. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

The host nation for a summit of Western Hemisphere leaders on Tuesday withdrew its invitation to Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro over his country's plan to hold an early presidential election.

Maduro had been among leaders invited to the Summit of the Americas, a regional gathering seen as the premier forum for projecting U.S. leadership in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Venezuela's pro-government election officials recently announced that the presidential election will be April 22, though traditionally the vote has been held late in the year. The date was set just hours after negotiations crumbled between the government and political opposition leaders over how to conduct the election so it is free and fair.

The United States has said it will reject the election, which also drew swift condemnation from condemnation from several of Venezuela's neighbors in Latin America as well as nations in Europe. The critics said the rushed ballot will undercut the political negotiations and is unfair to the opposition.

"His presence will no longer be welcome in said meeting," Peruvian Foreign Minister Cayetana Aljovin said of Maduro's invitation to the Summit of the Americas.

Aljovin was backed by foreign ministers of the Lima Group, a coalition from 14 mostly conservative governments in the region formed last year to advocate for what it considers the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.

Its members include, among others, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.

The group also urged Maduro to allow a humanitarian corridor to prove relief for Venezuela's suffering residents.

Venezuela sits atop the world largest oil reserves, but historically low production levels after nearly 20 years of socialist rule has resulted in severe shortages of food and medicine. Desperate residents are increasingly fleeing Venezuela into neighboring Brazil and Colombia, unsettling the region.

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