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Women queues on the street as they try to buy diapers outside a pharmacy in Caracas, Venezuela March 18, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins(reuters_tickers)
By Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Regional governments on Tuesday called on the Organization of American States to come up with a plan "in the shortest possible time" to address Venezuela's political and humanitarian crisis.
A meeting of the 34-member OAS failed to find support for suspending Venezuela from the regional bloc despite calls by OAS head, Luis Almagro, for sanctioning Venezuela if it does not hold elections.
In a statement during the meeting, 20 member countries expressed concern about the shortage of food and medicine in Venezuela and called for political dialogue between the government of President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition.
The statement called on the OAS to come up with "concrete proposals to define a course of action that contributes to the identification of diplomatic solutions in the shortest possible time within the institutional framework of our organization and through inclusive consultation with our member states."
Last week, 14 member countries, including regional power-houses Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the United States, called for the OAS meeting on Venezuela, ratcheting up regional pressure on Maduro's socialist government.
Ahead of Tuesday's meeting, the United States, the bloc's largest and most powerful member, said it did not support the immediate suspension of Venezuela from the group, a drastic step that could further isolate the country.
Previous efforts by regional leaders and the Vatican to broker political talks between the government and opposition have so far failed.
Michael Fitzpatrick, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, called for a role by the OAS to resolve the crisis in Venezuela, a step the country has so far rejected.
He added: "For that to happen it will be essential for the Venezuelan government accept a hand extended by the OAS. Unfortunately, there are few signs that the government of Venezuela is willing to do so."
Opponents of Maduro have accused him of turning the country into a dictatorship after Venezuela's election board suspended an opposition drive for a recall referendum against him. Venezuela has also delayed until 2017 elections due in December for state governorships.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez visited the OAS on Monday to have the meeting suspended, saying Almagro was being strong-armed by the United States' hostile policy toward Venezuela.
Before Tuesday's session Samuel Moncada, Venezuela's deputy minister of foreign affairs for North America, again objected to the meeting, arguing it violated OAS rules on interfering in members' internal affairs.
After more than two hours of statements from member countries, the meeting was thrown into disarray when Moncada lashed out at Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Moncada said the impeachment of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff amounted to a "coup d'etat" before he turned on neighbouring Colombia.
"You have been through a war that has lasted 60 years with all kinds of atrocities and we never came here to accuse you," Moncada said referring to Colombia's 52-year civil war.
Despite several warnings, Moncada continued his attacks.
The session was forced to a close when Canada's representative protested, saying: "I must protest to the continued abuse of this forum. This is not the place for baseless accusations."
In Caracas, a few thousand red-clad government supporters marched through the capital in an anti-imperialist protest, which Maduro was due to attend later.
"We're marching to tell Almagro not to touch Venezuela!" said red-shirted Nancy Guzman, a 51-year-old teacher.
(Additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Andreina Apontein; Editing by Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)