Venezuela threatens OAS pullout after criticism

CARACAS Sun May 10, 2009 5:56am IST

CARACAS May 9 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened on Saturday to withdraw from the Organization of American States, which he has accused of being dominated by Washington, after it criticized his government's human rights record.

The leftist Chavez and U.S. President Barack Obama shook hands in a much-publicized encounter at the organization's summit in Trinidad last month, the first sign of warming bilateral relations following a decade-long war of words.

"We have to ask why the OAS is relevant," Chavez said during a televised speech. "Venezuela could withdraw from the OAS and call on other peoples of the continent to free ourselves of those old institutions."

The OAS, which includes all countries in the Americas except communist-ruled Cuba, included Venezuela this week in a list of countries it said needed to do more to defend human rights.

Chavez, who accused the organization of backing a brief 2002 coup against him, told the OAS human rights commission to "go straight to hell."

He reaffirmed a proposal for Latin American nations to withdraw en masse from the organization and create a new group free of what he calls the imperialist influence of the United States.

Governments allied with Chavez have in the past offered rhetorical support for the proposal but have taken few concrete steps toward creating a new diplomatic body to represent the Western Hemisphere. (Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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