Lima Group countries call on Venezuela to cancel polls

Mexico City (AFP) –


The Lima Group of countries seeking a peaceful solution to the spiralling crisis in Venezuela urged President Nicolas Maduro on Monday to cancel weekend elections that the group has denounced as undemocratic.

The group "calls for the last time on the Venezuelan government to suspend the general elections" scheduled for Sunday, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told a press conference after the countries met in Mexico City.

The elections were called "without the participation of all political actors in Venezuela, without independent international observers and without the necessary guarantees to make them free, transparent and democratic," he said, reading a statement on behalf of 12 North and South American countries.

The early elections are being boycotted by the Venezuelan opposition, and much of the international community has condemned them as illegitimate.

Maduro, the political heir to the late leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez, has presided over an implosion of once wealthy oil producer Venezuela's economy.

The South American country is in partial default on its debt and suffers severe shortages of food and medicines.

Inflation rose to 13,779 percent in the past year, according to a recent study by the opposition-dominated National Assembly -- confirming other estimates showing that Venezuela has by far the world's highest inflation rate.

The economy is expected to shrink 15 percent this year, its fifth year of recession, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Maduro insists Venezuela is the victim of an "economic war" waged by the conservative opposition and outside powers such as the United States.

With Venezuelans leaving the country in droves, the rest of the region has grown increasingly worried, fearing the destabilizing effect of an all-out collapse.

The Lima Group was launched last year by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

Other countries have also participated in its meetings and signed its statements.

Spain attended Monday's meeting, and the United States participated by video conference.

Videgaray said the countries were analyzing diplomatic, economic, financial and humanitarian strategies to deal with the Venezuela crisis.

Elected in 2013 after Chavez's death, Maduro is looking to secure a second six-year term.