By Silene Ramírez | CARACAS
Organization of American States President Luis Almagro offered on Saturday to resign if Venezuela holds free elections and enacts reforms to protect democracy in the troubled South American nation.
“I will resign from the Organization of American States the day that free, fair and transparent national elections are held without impediments,” Almagro said in a video message posted on Twitter. “I offer my position in exchange for freedom in Venezuela.”
President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday that if Almagro, an outspoken critic of his government, resigned he would consider reversing a decision to withdraw Venezuela from the 34-nation OAS bloc.
At its annual general assembly in Mexico this week, the OAS failed to reach consensus on a resolution about Venezuela, where 75 people have died in three months of protests.
Demonstrators are demanding general elections to end 18 years of socialist rule in the once-wealthy OPEC nation, racked by rising poverty and a deepening economic and political crisis.
Countries in the region have lambasted Maduro over Venezuela’s situation, but they have no evident means of forcing a political transition to happen.
Despite low approval ratings and the increasingly dire humanitarian situation, Maduro faces few short-term threats to his hold on power.
The next presidential election is not scheduled until late next year, and military officers have until now ignored opposition calls that they urge Maduro to resign.
Almagro conditioned his resignation offer on a long list of demands, including the release of political prisoners such as high-profile politician Leopoldo Lopez, and a guarantee of Supreme Court independence.
Maduro offered no immediate response to Almagro’s offer on Saturday. But he has called the OAS chief “immoral” in the past and considers the regional group a puppet of Washington intent on toppling his government.
Security forces on Saturday used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators.
The National Guard said two of its members were wounded in confrontations with the demonstrators at an air base in the east of Caracas near where a 22-year-old protester was shot dead by a military police sergeant on Thursday..
Maduro, during a speech to commemorate independence day, again accused the opposition of sowing chaos to lay the groundwork for a coup against him.
“Desperation, hatred, and fury thrive among the enemies of the fatherland,” said Maduro, flanked by ministers and military top brass, describing the OAS’s inability to produce a statement on Venezuela as a victory for the country.
The opposition wants Maduro to bring forward next year’s presidential election.
Instead, the president has called for the election of a constitutional assembly on July 30 to draft a new constitution.
The opposition has said it will boycott the vote, calling it a rigged process to help the unpopular government stay in power.
(Reporting by Silene Ramirez; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)