U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called Venezuela "an increasingly violent narco-state" that threatens the world, speaking Monday at an informal Security Council meeting on the South American nation that was boycotted by Russia, China, Egypt and Bolivia.
She accused Venezuela of using pressure to keep council members from attending, saying the fact that its government would go so far "is guilt — and that's unfortunate."
Venezuela's U.N. ambassador, Rafael Ramirez, denounced the session, telling reporters: "This is a hostile act from the United States and an interference that violates the sovereignty principles of a country that is a member of the United Nations."
The situation in Venezuela is not on the Security Council's official agenda — a point stressed by Ramirez and Bolivia's U.N. ambassador — but Haley said she will continue "to use the convening power of the United Nations to draw attention to this crisis."
The informal meeting sharply divided the 15 members on the U.N.'s most powerful body. In addition to the four countries that boycotted, diplomats noted that Ethiopia and Uruguay indicated the meeting shouldn't have been held and Senegal didn't speak.
The United States and Italy organized the meeting, saying in a note circulated to council members that they would hear first-hand accounts of the deteriorating political, economic and social situation in oil-rich Venezuela and the humanitarian impact on the region. They said it would also provide a chance to discuss the role the international community can play in seeking political solutions and humanitarian access.
"The situation unfolding in Venezuela is more than a human tragedy," Haley said. "The crisis in Venezuela today poses a direct threat to international peace and security. Venezuela is an increasingly violent narco-state that threatens the region, the hemisphere and the world."
She said the Venezuelan people, who not long ago had the highest GDP per capita in the region, are suffering sky high inflation as a result of actions by President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government, which "cares only for preserving its own power, rather than promoting the freedom and welfare of its people."
"Today, families struggle to live on just about eight dollars a month," Haley said. "The result is that Venezuela's neighbors are paying the bill for the violence and poverty the corrupt Maduro regime has inflicted on its people."
Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, which Maduro has withdrawn from, told the meeting that Venezuela is being run by "a tyrannical dictatorship." It is led by "a criminal system with official links to drug trafficking and the use of state tools for drug trafficking and money laundering," he said.
"Members of the opposition are put in jail," Almagro added, and demonstrations seeking basic freedoms "ended with more than 120 people killed by security forces and more than 15,000 injured."
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said a report from his office in late August documents "extensive and serious violations of human rights by national authorities aimed at curbing anti-government protests."
It concluded that Venezuela's government has "a policy to systematically repress political dissent and instill fear in the population," he said.
While the human rights situation since August "remains critical," Zeid said, protests have decreased dramatically as have related deaths and arbitrary detentions. But he said his office continues to receive reports of harassment, arbitrary detentions, torture and ill-treatment of government opponents.
He said Venezuelan security forces have continued a pattern of excessive force since at least 2014, with security forces responsible for 357 extrajudicial killings between July 2015 and March 2017, according to the attorney general's office.
Zeid said his office found 5,051 arbitrary detentions of protesters, a number "simply unprecedented in the recent history of the country."