The chief of the Organization of American States (OAS) on Wednesday issued an unusual broadside against Venezualan president Nicolas Maduro, denying his assertion that he is a spy.
"Your lie, even if it is repeated a thousand times, will never be true. Nevertheless it should be clarified, although this is to deny the absurd," said Secretary General Luis Almagro.
Almagro said he would not be intimidated by Maduro's bullying, saying he would be "just another petty dictator" if a referendum to oust him is squelched.
The Venezuelan president has accused Almagro of being a CIA agent and on Tuesday claimed that the United States was plotting to invade his country, which is politically divided and economically shattered.
Almagro, a Uruguayan who took the helm of the Washington-based regional organization in May 2015, called Maduro a "traitor" to the principles of freedom, democracy and human rights.
"You betray your people and your supposed ideology with your rambling tirades. You are a traitor to ethics in politics with your lies, and you betray the most sacred principle in politics, which is to subject yourself to the scrutiny of your people," Almagro wrote.
Venezuela's unicameral National Assembly on Tuesday defeated a decree seeking special powers for Maduro and the military. The opposition, which won a legislative majority in December, accused Maduro of preparing for a dictatorship.
The Venezuelan opposition is seeking to force a recall referendum to oust him, though election authorities last week rejected a petition with 1.8 million signatures.
"You have an obligation to public decency to hold the recall referendum in 2016, because when politics are polarized the decision must go back to the people. That is what the Constitution says," Almagro said.
"To deny the people that vote, to deny them the possibility of deciding, would make you just another petty dictator, like so many this hemisphere has had."
He accused Maduro of holding political prisoners and undermining democracy.
Venezuela, which is heavily dependent on petroleum exports, has seen its economy collapse in part due to sharply lower oil prices. Power outages have become widespread, and many government offices open for only two days a week to save electricity.
Last week, Maduro extended an economic state of emergency by 60 days, threatened to seize factories that halt production and ridiculed the business community's complaints about shortages of raw materials.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday said the United States joined "the international community in expressing our concerns about the difficult conditions the Venezuelan people are experiencing," noting worsening shortages of food, electricity, basic consumer goods and medical supplies, which have been rationed since January.