Foreign diplomats urge Venezuela's Maduro to hand over power

A dozen Latin American governments and Canada have delivered a blistering rebuke to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, questioning the legitimacy of his soon-to-begin second term and urging him to hand over power

The sharp criticism came at a meeting in Peru's capital of foreign ministers from countries including Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, all of which have been weighing how to confront the increasingly authoritarian Maduro while absorbing a growing exodus of Venezuelans fleeing economic chaos.

"Only through the full restoration, as soon as possible, of democracy and a respect for human rights is it possible to resolve the country's political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis," the diplomats said.

"What a display of humiliating subordination!" Arreaza said on Twitter.

A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is in the throes of crisis after two decades of socialist rule, marked by hyperinflation that makes it difficult for people to afford scarce food and medicine. An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have migrated from the country since 2015, according to the United Nations.

The Lima Group was formed more than a year ago by mostly conservative-run regional governments seeking to defuse a crisis in Venezuela that is increasingly threatening regional stability. The group had joined the U.S. and others in condemning Maduro's re-election in May as a sham after popular opponents were banned from running and the largest anti-government parties boycotted the race.

While the group previously denounced Maduro as a "dictator" and urged dialogue, its hard-edged resolution Friday calling on Maduro to step down suggests its members are losing patience and likely to join the U.S. in trying to ostracize and further punish the embattled leader.

Among other steps, the group vowed to block top Venezuelan officials from entering their countries and freeze assets they hold abroad. The resolution also expressed support for an effort to prosecute Maduro at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

But beyond the heated rhetoric, the anti-Maduro coalition showed signs of fraying along ideological lines.

Maduro traveled to Lopez Obrador's inauguration, meeting privately with the Mexican leader.

Maximiliano Reyes, Mexico's undersecretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, said he didn't back the resolution because it runs contrary to promoting dialogue, the spirit in which the international coalition was formed.

"Mexico is convinced that this type of action, far from resolving the situation in the country, would further deteriorate living conditions of Venezuelans," he said.

The United States is not formally a member of the Lima Group but has been a vocal supporter and Pompeo participated in the meeting via video conference.

Pompeo this month made a visit to Latin America during which he attended the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and then stopped in Colombia to meet with President Ivan Duque. Both Bolsonaro and Duque have declared a united stance against Maduro's government aligned with the United States.

The Trump administration considers Maduro's government a "dictatorship." It has sanctioned roughly 70 top officials and blocked U.S. banks from doing business with Venezuela, putting a financial stranglehold on the cash-strapped country.

Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America, questioned Pompeo's participation in Friday's meeting.

He said the Lima Group was created to showcase concerns of Latin American nations about Venezuela's crisis and Pompeo's involvement furthers a perception that the U.S. has been quietly directing its moves.

The coalition should push for neutral actors to open dialogue between Maduro's government and opposition leaders, finding ways to reduce mounting tensions and reach a peaceful resolution in Venezuela, Ramsey said.

"I'm worried that this paints the region into a corner, with no clear path forward," Ramsey said of the resolution. "The truth is that Maduro isn't just going to hand over the keys."

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Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno reported this story in Lima and AP writer Scott Smith reported from Caracas, Venezuela. AP writer Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas contributed to this report.