The Organization of American States on Tuesday paved the way to expel Venezuela, blasting the South American nation for turning its back on democracy and abusing human rights.
The OAS passed the resolution with a vote of 19 to four, with 11 countries abstaining.
The action opens the door for the OAS General Assembly, at a later date, to hold a vote to suspend Venezuela from the august organization, which includes every country in the Americas but Cuba. However, it would take a supermajority, or 24 members, to separate Venezuela from the group.
Venezuela Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza denounced Washington and Vice President Mike Pence for “extorting” members to sign onto the resolution, which he called "fraudulent."
And he announced that Venezuela was withdrawing from the organization “that has never done anything for our people of the Americas.”
Venezuela began the process of quitting the OAS last year, but it can take two years to formally withdraw.
Arreaza also blamed Washington for his nation’s sprawling crisis, saying financial and economic sanctions have hobbled Venezuela and limited its ability to import medicine. The oil-rich but cash-poor nation also suggested it was keeping tabs, saying those who had supported Tuesday's resolution had crossed a dangerous line.
“You are supporting military intervention in Venezuela,” Arreaza told the representatives before leaving the room. “Let that weigh on your conscience.”
The OAS had urged Venezuela to postpone its May 20 presidential election, fearing it was unfair and lacked transparency. Tuesday’s resolution said that vote, where President Nicolás Maduro won a new six-year term, “lacks legitimacy” and represents an "unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional order."
Tuesday's resolution calls on member states to "strictly" apply Articles 20 and 21 of the OAS charter, which allow for the suspension of member nations.
As the resolution passed, members of the audience broke out in chants of "Freedom! Freedom!"
On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, applauded the nations that voted to suspend Venezuela and urged them to take more actions to isolate "the illegitimate rulers in Caracas."
"This is another warning for Maduro and his cronies that their days in power are numbered. I look forward to the day a democratic Venezuela is welcomed at the OAS,” he said in a statement.
Caracas has long argued that the OAS — founded in 1948 and based in Washington, D.C. — is a U.S. pawn.
Carlos Trujillo, the U.S. representative to the OAS, said the region's firm stance against Venezuela was long overdue. And he said he was sorry that the Venezuelan delegation hadn’t stayed to hear his comments. He also noted that the struggling country wasn't up-to-date on its OAS dues.
“I’m more upset that they left without paying their bill,” he said.