South America creating regional bloc to counter Venezuela: Colombia

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - South American countries are developing a new diplomatic group to replace the Unasur regional bloc that is heavily influenced by increasingly isolated Venezuela, Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Monday.

The Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, was created 10 years ago by late Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez to counteract the influence of the United States in the region as a wave of leftist leaders held sway over the region’s politics.

But mounting criticism that Chavez’s successor, President Nicolas Maduro, is undermining democracy, as well as a general rightward shift in the region, led Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Peru to suspend their participation in the group.

The new group, called Prosur, would seek to counteract the influence of what countries in the region call a dictatorship in Venezuela.

“We’ve been advancing toward the end of Unasur and the creation of Prosur ... a South American platform for the coordination of public policies, the defense of democracy, independent institutions, and market economies,” Duque said in a radio interview.

“It is very important that (Unasur), which has been a supporter of the dictatorship of Venezuela, be shut down,” Duque said.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The troubled nation’s economic crisis has caused an exodus of 3 million people since 2015, according to the United Nations, the vast majority of which have gone to neighboring Colombia.

Maduro says the country is victim of an “economic war” led by political adversaries with the help of the United States, which has levied several rounds of sanctions against Maduro’s government and top officials.

Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Paul Simao