PORLAMAR, Venezuela: Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolas Maduro has warned world leaders at a Non-Aligned Summit that his country was being lashed by a US economic war aimed at toppling him.
Speaking at the same event, which opened Saturday, Maduro’s closest regional ally, Cuban President Raul Castro, echoed the charge, despite his country’s thawing relations with the United States.
“Venezuela is facing an onslaught… that is against all of Latin America and the Caribbean, that is trying to re-impose and recolonize the politics, economy, culture and life of our countries,” Maduro — a socialist who has made the economy increasingly state-run — charged in his speech after taking over the movement’s rotating presidency from Iran.
Leaders from the 120-nation group, including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, gathered for two days on Venezuela’s Caribbean island of Margarita.
Venezuela, an OPEC member and home to the world’s largest proven oil reserves, will seek backing for its campaign to slash abundant global crude production in a bid to raise prices.
Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa, whose country is the smallest member of OPEC and who supports the Venezuelan aspiration, said the oil cartel runs the risk of falling apart over differences on market strategy.
“Clearly OPEC has weakened and there is a danger of it disintegrating,” Correa said, speaking on the sidelines of the summit.
While sounding the alarm about a purported international campaign to topple him is not new, Maduro looks keen to recast the Non-Aligned movement — a Cold War relic with dwindling support — as a bulwark against re-colonization, analysts say.
Founded in 1961 to represent countries resentful of being squeezed in the power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Non-Aligned Movement has endeavored in recent years to remain relevant in a post-Cold War world.
Push for referendum
The Venezuelan opposition is seeking to oust Maduro at the ballot box with a referendum.
The president maintains the United States is working with conservative local interests to oust him.
Castro, who backs Maduro’s allegations, voiced dismay at the US failure to end its embargo on Havana.
He said regional allies would derail “subversive and meddling” US plans on which he did not elaborate.
And Castro, Maduro, Correa and Bolivian President Evo Morales all slammed the recent impeachment and removal of Brazil’s ex-president Dilma Rousseff.
Rousseff, convicted in the Senate over budget irregularities, was replaced on August 31 by center-right President Michel Temer, her vice president-turned-nemesis.
Looting and riots
Falling oil prices have triggered an economic crisis in Venezuela, causing food shortages, outbreaks of looting and riots.
The crisis is the biggest threat yet to Maduro and the socialist “revolution” launched in 1999 by his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
Embattled and unpopular at home, Maduro has nowhere near the international clout once enjoyed by Chavez.
Venezuela’s opposition is pushing for a referendum on removing Maduro from power by the end of the year.
Polls indicate Maduro would lose by a hefty margin. But his opponents say electoral officials are dragging their feet to protect him.
They held fresh protests Friday after the authorities delayed announcing the timeline for the next step in the process for a second time.
Venezuelans spend long hours lining up outside supermarkets and pharmacies only to find bare shelves and soaring prices inside.
The country is facing its third year of deep recession this year, with inflation set to top 700 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.