Venezuela called 'dictatorship' by Peru, condemned by new bloc

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru called the government of Venezuela a “dictatorship” on Tuesday after hosting the first meeting of a new, 17-member regional bloc that aims to seek a peaceful end to the country’s deepening political crisis.

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In a joint declaration released after a meeting in Lima, countries including Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile and Colombia collectively condemned the “breakdown of democratic order” in Venezuela and said they would not recognize any action taken by its “illegitimate” new constituent assembly.

Peru called for the gathering of diplomats in the region after Venezuela held a widely-criticized election last month to form the constituent assembly, an all-powerful body run by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Party loyalists.

“What we have in Venezuela is a dictatorship,” Peruvian Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Luna told a press conference, flanked by his counterparts from the region.

Luna said that it was important to address the “unprecedented regional crisis” in Venezuela collectively, but said some member’s of the new group may take individual actions to go further.

Luna’s comments marked some of the harshest words for Venezuela from a foreign country amid the recent wave of international condemnations as Maduro’s government cracks down on protests and seeks to consolidate power.

Peru has been one of the most outspoken critics of Maduro under centrist Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki, a former Wall Street banker whom Maduro has described as a lackey of the United States.

Earlier on Tuesday, Kuczynski said Venezuela was “on its last leg economically.”

The regional group, which plans to meet again, also condemned Venezuela’s “systematic violation of human rights and fundamental liberties, violence, repression and political persecution, the existence of political prisoners and the lack of free elections.”

Chile’s foreign minister Heraldo Munoz told reporters that the group does not intend to meddle in Venezuela’s sovereign affairs.

“What we want is to re-establish the broken democratic order,” Munoz said, adding that “Chile does not accept military coups, auto-coups or military uprisings.”

The meeting in Lima came as the regional ALBA bloc, which includes Venezuela’s leftist allies in Latin America including Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba, expressed support for Maduro in a meeting in Caracas.

Earlier on Tuesday, the United Nations slammed Venezuela for the use of excessive force against anti-government protesters.

Reporting by Mitra Taj, Ursula Scollo and Eyanir Chinea Marco Aquino; Editing by Sandra Maler and Michael Perry