Colombian President Ivan Duque, who has championed a hard line on Venezuela, speaks at a UN summit on climate change
Colombian President Ivan Duque, who has championed a hard line on Venezuela, speaks at a UN summit on climate change AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

Countries in the Americas voted Monday to activate a regional defense treaty against Venezuela, responding to a request by the United States, which is seeking to topple leftist president Nicolas Maduro.

The United States earlier this month invoked the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, known by its Spanish acronym TIAR, as it denounced "bellicose" moves by Venezuela.

It pointed to Venezuela's alleged support for Colombian armed groups that rejected a peace deal, as well as Venezuelan troop movements in exercises near the border.

"The Rio Treaty affords an opportunity to the region to finally take corrective action," said John J. Sullivan, the US deputy secretary of state, using another name for TIAR.

Meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, countries in the treaty voted 16 to 1 in favor of activating it, Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes said.

The treaty will allow member countries to "identify and designate persons and entities" of Maduro's regime "involved in crime networks," Holmes said.

Under the treaty, the countries can prosecute or extradite blacklisted officials or seize their assets, he said.

A senior US official said TIAR is a useful way to exert economic and diplomatic pressure, noting that many Latin American countries do not have domestic laws under which to act.

"So we think it's likely to lead to a wider imposition of sanctions," he said.

The vote marks the latest development in the standoff between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela's interim president.

Maduro presides over a crumbling economy but remains in power with backing from Russia, China and Cuba.

The members of TIAR are Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Uruguay was the only nation that voted against, while Trinidad and Tobago abstained. Cuba did not vote as it does not participate in the treaty, although it never formally withdrew.

Oil-rich Venezuela suffers from hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods from food to medicine, a crisis that has forced some 3.6 million people to flee the country since 2016.