The Organization of American States on Tuesday narrowly adopted a resolution that could trigger a process for suspending Venezuela at a later date if enough votes are gathered.
The language sponsored by the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru was adopted with 19 votes in favor, four against and 11 abstentions after prolonged negotiations during the organization's General Assembly meeting in Washington. The number of votes required was 18.
The resolution was adopted a day after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had asked officials from 22 countries to begin the process of suspending Venezuela from membership and participation in the OAS.
"The OAS must stand for freedom. And now is the time," Pence said Monday night.
Venezuela's foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, responded by saying the officials from the countries who voted in favor "cannot call (Pence) today and tell him 'mission accomplished.' There are only 19 votes."
Carlos Trujillo, U.S. ambassador to the OAS, acknowledged that 19 is still far from the 24 votes required to launch a process that could end in a suspension of the South American country, but he said that President Nicolas Maduro "only has three friends."
Arreaza said the resolution opens the door to all options, including a military intervention.
"Whoever supported this resolution also support the possibility of a military intervention in Venezuela," he said. "It is up to your conscience."
The resolution calls on member states to implement politic and economic measures "to assist in the restoration of democratic order in Venezuela."
The document also declares that the victory of Maduro in the May presidential election lacks legitimacy, a position already adopted separately by at least 15 countries of the hemisphere.
It is the strongest statement adopted so far by the countries of the OAS about the Venezuelan crisis since its secretary-general said in 2016 that the South American country had suffered "grave alterations of democratic order."
At the General Assembly last year in Cancun, foreign ministers from throughout the Americas were unable to get enough votes for a relatively strongly worded proposal calling on the Venezuelan government to reconsider its call for an assembly to re-write the constitution and to respect the separation of powers.
OAS members have kicked out only two nations before. Communist Cuba was expelled in 1962 and Honduras was suspended briefly following a 2009 military coup. The ban of Cuba was lifted in 2009, but the communist island rejected rejoining the hemispheric group.