U.S. State Department official outlines situation in Venezuela

The U.S. State Department held a special briefing on the growing unrest in Venezuela recently.

The briefing, led by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, involved a conversation call with Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Fitzpatrick, a State Department release said.

Fitzpatrick said there were growing protests against the regime of President Nicolas Maduro. The near-daily protests began after the Venezuelan Supreme Court stripped the anti-regime national assembly of most of its remaining powers. Hundreds of protesters had been wounded and more than 30 killed by the time of the briefing and more than 1,000 arrests had made, the release said.

Fitzpatrick updated reporters on the ongoing political and economic situation. The Maduro regime had called for a new constitution, after refusing to give up power after losing the national assembly elections in 2015, canceling gubernatorial elections in 2016 and sabotaging a recall effort. The Supreme Court was also sacked and replaced with pro-regime judges in 2015.

Fitzpatrick also discussed the Venezuelan economy, which has the world's highest inflation. Hunger and public health concerns have increased due to the policy choices of the government.

The Permanent Council of the Organization of the American States (OAS) met in April to discuss the situation. The Venezuelan mission opposed the Permanent Council meeting and the proposed meeting of ministers on the grounds that it was interfering with the country's domestic affairs. Venezuela formalized its intent to leave the OAS with a letter to OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro. As Fitzpatrick explained, the process will take two years to complete.

"And I should also underscore that neither the OAS, Secretary General Almagro, nor the United States government, nor any of the other member states of the OAS are turning their back from the government of Venezuela," Fitzpatrick said in the release. "All of us remain willing and able and desirous of dialogue with the government of Venezuela."

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