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U.S., region's foreign ministers debate Venezuela

 (AFP / Getty Images)
(AFP / Getty Images)

The United States and foreign ministers from across the hemisphere met in Washington on Wednesday to attempt to force Venezuela's leftist government and its angry opposition into talks.

Hunger and violence have pushed Venezuela to the brink of humanitarian disaster, diplomats say.

But Wednesday's meeting of the Organization of American States faced unlikely prospects for success: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro does not trust the organization and has said his nation will withdraw its membership.

Some OAS nations, including several U.S. allies in the Caribbean, have criticized the regional body's efforts as intervention promoted by Washington.

But U.S. officials are hoping the sheer weight of the crisis will unite the region to put pressure on Venezuela. 

"There’s more and more concern about what we’re seeing, and so more and more countries have gotten over their reluctance to question or go against the wishes of the Venezuelan government," a senior State Department official said in a briefing for reporters.

"It's really hard to stand by and do nothing in the face of the kinds of institutional steps we’ve seen in Venezuela, and the increasing humanitarian suffering," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with frequent administration practice.

Although the OAS periodically brings its members' foreign ministers together, this is the first time a meeting has been convened to deal with a single topic, U.S. officials said.

At the conclusion of Wednesday's session, diplomats said they had discussed two resolutions. One, promoted by Caribbean nations, called on Venezuela to reconsider withdrawing from the OAS.

A second more pointed resolution authored by the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Panama and Peru urged the Maduro administration not to go ahead with a constituent assembly that would rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. Many fear it would dissolve the few democratic institutions that remain and favor the ruling Socialist Party.

Separately, the Venezuela opposition, emboldened by a string of increasingly massive street demonstrations, sharply criticized Wall Street for extending what it called a "lifeline" to the Maduro government.

At issue is the purchase by Goldman Sachs of Venezuelan government bonds for a reported $865 million, a major discount for paper originally worth $2.8 billion.

Goldman Sachs confirmed the purchase of the bonds, issued in 2014 by the state oil company PDVSA, after it was reported in the Wall Street Journal.

"We are invested in PDVSA bonds because, like many in the asset management industry, we believe the situation in the country must improve over time," Goldman said in a statement. The firm added that it made the purchase through a secondary dealer to avoid direct interaction with the Venezuelan government.

That distinction meant nothing to the Venezuelan opposition, which accused Goldman of "making a buck off the suffering" of the Venezuelan people.

The Trump administration previously has targeted the Maduro government, slapping economic sanctions on its vice president and pro-Maduro Supreme Court justices. 

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