UNITED NATIONS — Venezuela's foreign minister said Monday that he is ready to crash a meeting at the United Nations called to help surrounding countries struggling to deal with the flood of migrants fleeing his nation's economic crisis.
Organized by Colombia, the meeting Tuesday is designed to set up a fund for countries overwhelmed by the masses of Venezuelan escaping poverty and hunger.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said he will show to make his own demands — starting with $500 million to finance the repatriation of Venezuelans eager to return home.
"We have plans to attend that meeting and take advantage of the context," Arreaza told reporters at the entrance to the United Nations.
Colombian President Ivan Duque didn't directly say Venezuela would be barred from the meeting, but he hinted at that by saying the session will be open to nations that promote democratic ideals.
"I want to be very clear on this, Venezuela is in a dictatorship, and what we are going to have here is a forum for countries that defend democracy," Duque told reporters.
Though a once-wealthy oil-producing nation, Venezuela has plunged into an economic and political crisis after two decades of socialist rule. President Nicolas Maduro often blames the problems on what he says is an "economic war" being waged on Venezuela by the United States and other imperialist powers.
The huge number of Venezuelans leaving their homeland to escape severe shortages of food, medicine and other basics is threatening to destabilize the region. Their countrymen remaining behind struggle to afford what little food is available amid hyperinflation and a crumbling infrastructure has crippled vital services like water and electricity.
Arreaza said that in past years, Venezuela was a place of refuge for many people escaping violence and instability in other parts of Latin America, such as five decades of civil conflict in neighboring Colombia.
"And also, why not, then, if that's the case, request resources to compensate Venezuela for the investment it has made to take in at least six million Latin Americans, most of whom are Colombians living in our country," he said.
Venezuela's crisis has caused many Colombians to return home, but it is unclear how many.
Roughly 1.6 million native Venezuelans have left their country since the beginning of 2015 due to the economic crisis, the majority remaining in South America, according to United Nations' figures.
Arreaza rejected a claim by many leaders of neighboring countries that Venezuela is to blame for the departure of Venezuelans.
"Imagine that we used the argument of Colombian migration to attack Colombia or to denounce it before international entities," he said.
Duque and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence are expected to open the meeting, which is likely to be attended by foreign ministers from several Latin American countries and officials of United Nations agencies.