OAS calls for peace, dialogue in Venezuela

The Organization of American States late Friday overwhelmingly approved a call for talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition, urging a return to peace in the protest-torn country.

Some 20 people have been killed and around 300 injured in a wave of protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro that began in early February. Currently the government and the political opposition are not talking.

The Permanent Council of the OAS approved the declaration by a vote of 29-3, with only the United States, Canada and Panama in opposition. Representatives of Grenada and the Bahamas were absent for the vote.

The five-point measure -- proposed by Bolivia and supported by other leftist governments in the region, including Venezuela itself -- praises the government's efforts to "move forward with the process of national dialogue towards political and social reconciliation."

It calls "on all sectors for peace, calm, and respect for human rights and fundamental liberties, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."

The measure also calls for "respect for the principle of nonintervention in the domestic affairs of states."

There was no mention of the Venezuelan opposition or any of its leaders, such as Leopoldo Lopez, currently jailed on charges of inciting violence.

"This is a victory for Latin America," said Venezuelan ambassador Roy Chaderton.

Panama, which has broken ties with Venezuela, was not impressed.

"It is not balanced," said the central American country's ambassador to the OAS, Arturo Vallarino.

The declaration "has good parts," said US ambassador Carmen Lomellin, "but we didn't think it went far enough."

In a dissenting footnote, the United States says it believes talks "will require the participation of a third party all sides can trust. It will also require an end to attempts to suppress free speech and a release of political prisoners."

The measure was approved after 15 hours of discussion that began on Thursday at the group's Washington headquarters and continued nearly all day Friday.