Cuba backs crisis-hit Venezuela ahead of Caribbean summit

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba threw its backing on Friday behind Venezuela’s embattled government in its fight against “imperialism” ahead of a regional summit that is set to be dominated by an intensifying diplomatic crisis in Latin America.

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The summit of Caribbean countries in Havana comes days after the head of the Organization of American States called for an urgent meeting to discuss whether Venezuela was violating democratic norms. The process could end in the country’s suspension from the body.

A majority of the 25 states that are members of the Association of Caribbean States, or ACS, receive subsidized fuel from Venezuela under its Petrocaribe oil program that Caracas uses to wield influence in the region.

“The hysterical, clumsy and non-ethical way in which the OAS Secretary General is trying to service obscure interests is surprising,” Cuba said in a statement published by the ruling Communist party newspaper Granma.

As Latin America shifts away from leftist populism toward more centrist policies, Communist-ruled Cuba and its remaining allies have railed against the “imperialist” efforts of the United States to regain control of the region.

Despite the recent detente between the two countries, Cuba still refers to the U.S. as “the enemy.”

In Granma, Cuba praised long-term ally Venezuela for its “tough and victorious diplomatic battle” against “the meddling plan of imperialism and oligarchies.”

“We reiterate once more (to Venezuela) the full support of the people and the revolutionary government of Cuba and our unbreakable belief in the triumph of its just cause,” Cuba said.

Venezuela’s government is facing growing criticism abroad as well as an opposition push at home for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro against the darkening economic backdrop of chronic shortages and spiraling inflation.

The country’s influence in Latin America has also waned in tandem with its economic clout as global oil prices dropped.

At its Washington headquarters, the OAS on Wednesday debated a draft declaration urging talks to end the Venezuelan crisis. The special session appeared to be a bid by some nations, including Mexico and Argentina, to avoid the more dramatic step proposed by OAS chief Luis Almagro.

The official agenda of the seventh ACS summit includes discussions about trade, transport and sustainable tourism as well as strategies to combat climate change.

Leaders from sixteen Caribbean countries will arrive on Friday in Havana to attend the summit, Cuban officials said, which officially takes place on Saturday.

Editing by Peter Cooney and Phil Berlowitz