UNITED NATIONS — The United States and Italy have organized an informal Security Council meeting on Venezuela, saying they want to hear first-hand accounts of the deteriorating political, economic and social situation in the oil-rich nation and the humanitarian impact on the region.
A note circulated to council members and obtained Friday by The Associated Press says the meeting on Monday afternoon will also provide an opportunity "to discuss the role the international community and regional organizations can play in seeking a political solution and facilitating humanitarian access to those affected by the tensions."
It said speakers at the open meeting will be U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro, Joseph Cornelius Donnelly who heads Caritas International's U.N. office, and Julio Henriquez, international coordinator of the Foro Penal Venezolano.
Venezuela's government has faced international criticism since the country's Supreme Court gutted powers of the opposition-controlled congress in March. The ruling was later reversed, but a new constitutional assembly composed entirely of government loyalists has claimed supreme power and has gone after President Nicolas Maduro's political opponents.
Over the past six months, more than 500,000 Venezuelans have fled the political tumult, triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of food and medicine, the note said.
The country's oil-dependent economy spiraled into crisis after world oil prices began a plunge in 2014, and it has been hit further by tough U.S. sanctions.
"Venezuela's neighbors lack the resources and capacity to absorb this influx of displaced people and exposes the vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual exploitation," the note by the U.S. and Italy said. "As the Venezuelan economy continues to crumble, the situation will likely only worsen, especially as the country is at risk of defaulting on its debt."
In September, U.N. human rights chief Zeid reported that Venezuela's security forces may have committed "crimes against humanity" in dealing with protesters and called for an international investigation.
The note said gubernatorial elections took place in October amid "allegations of widespread fraud and impropriety in the voting process."