Bolivian President Evo Morales says an opposition "coup" backed by the United States is underway in Venezuela, where violent anti-government protests have left at least 65 people dead. "What's happening there is a coup," Morales told dpa in an interview in the city of Santa Cruz.
"The government wants to guarantee the election of state governors and convene a constitutional convention but the right only wants [President Nicolas] Maduro's resignation," he said. "And the United States and OAS are intervening to achieve this end," he continued, accusing Washington of supporting the Venezuelan opposition in order to gain control of the country's oil reserves.
The intervention by the US and Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, was against all democratic principles, said Morales, one of Maduro's few remaining international allies.
"Maduro is a president who was elected by the majority of the people," Morales said. "Their votes must be defended."
Venezuela has been engulfed by violent protests since the beginning of April, as the country faces the worst economic crisis in its history with shortages of food and medicine and triple-digit inflation.
The protesters are demanding fresh elections but the embattled Maduro has refused to step down and announced his intention to press on with plans to have a new constitution drawn up, followed by a referendum. The move drew criticism even from within his own Socialist party, and the opposition fears he could use constitutional change to amass more power.
The OAS held an emergency meeting on Venezuela in Washington last week, in a bid to find a diplomatic solution to the country's crisis. Venezuela had threatened to withdraw from the group when the meeting was announced in April. OAS official Almagro, a former Uruguay foreign minister, is one of Maduro's most vocal critics, denouncing human rights violations in Venezuela and receiving members of the opposition at OAS headquarters in Washington.
The Bolivian president accused the opposition of deliberately escalating the crisis in Venezuela to spark international concern, arguing it could only be resolved by domestic political dialogue or with the help of mediators, for example from the Union of South American Nations (USAN).
Morales, elected in 2006, is Bolivia's first indigenous leader and has had the longest period in office since the country became independent in 1825.
Under his leadership Bolivia has posted some of the highest growth rates in the region, with Morales using profits from the country's gas exports to modernize the economy. He is currently expanding the country's exports of lithium, of which it has some of the world's biggest reserves. The metal is used in smartphone and electric car batteries. Morales' term in office is due to end in 2019, though the Movement to Socialism party he founded seeks to get round constitutional term limits which prevent him from running for a fourth term.