Venezuela's embattled president, Nicolás Maduro, said Tuesday night he supported Bernie Sanders in the U.S. presidential race, adding that the candidate, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, would win if the vote were "free."

Maduro, a socialist who has ruled the country since the 2013 death of his mentor Hugo Chávez, has long railed against the United States, blaming it for Venezuela's economic crisis and accusing Washington of attempting to topple him.

"Bernie Sanders, our revolutionary friend, ought to win in the United States," Maduro said during an hourslong televised broadcast.

Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, trails former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination.

In an email to supporters in September, Sanders called Chávez a "dead communist dictator."

Venezuela is reeling from a brutal economic crisis that has seen food and medicine running short and spiraling inflation destroying incomes.

The United States and Venezuela have had troubled relations since Chávez became president in 1999, and the countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.

Maduro suffered a blow on Tuesday, when the head of the Washington-based Organization of American States called an urgent meeting to discuss whether Venezuela was violating basic democratic principles, paving the way for a vote that could suspend it from the regional diplomatic body.

Maduro is also under pressure from Venezuela's opposition, which is pushing for a recall referendum to remove him from office this year, although authorities have said there would be no such vote.