By Courtney McBride
NEW YORK -- Western Hemisphere nations voted Monday to employ a regional treaty to impose sanctions against embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, accusing his regime of criminal activity including drug trafficking and money laundering.
In a meeting convened by the Organization of American States, 16 of the 19 states party to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, a 1947 pact known as the Rio Treaty, backed using the pact to collaborate on law-enforcement operations and economic sanctions against Mr. Maduro and his associates.
Only Uruguay opposed the resolution, while Trinidad and Tobago abstained and Cuba was absent.
A senior State Department official earlier had expressed confidence that the resolution would secure the requisite 13 votes for passage.
Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who chaired the session, touted the "immense majority" by which the resolution was approved, and said it marks the start of a broader effort to hold Mr. Maduro's regime accountable.
Government officials in Caracas didn't immediately comment on the vote.
But in recent weeks Mr. Maduro and his aides have publicly denounced the Rio Treaty, warning that the U.S. could use it to justify military intervention.
The approval of the resolution, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, follows the initial invocation last week of the Rio Treaty by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the U.S. and 10 other countries.
The Rio Treaty was created as a means of mutual defense for Western Hemisphere countries and was last employed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that the invocation of the treaty signals an understanding that the situation in Venezuela threatens the security of the entire region and requires a collective response.
Many of the countries that are party to the treaty lack statutes by which they could impose sanctions on their own. The treaty provides those countries with a mechanism to sanction Mr. Maduro's regime, absent passing new laws internally.
The Rio Treaty vote followed a meeting earlier Monday by members of the Lima Group, composed of Latin American countries and Canada, which has called on Mr. Maduro to resign.
Participants didn't address potential military involvement, such as blockading Venezuelan ships or aircraft.
While some Rio Treaty signatories had called for the insertion of language explicitly ruling out military action, the U.S. resisted such a measure, with a senior State Department official on Monday calling it "superfluous."
Signatories, whose foreign ministers met in New York, agreed to ask the OAS to continue monitoring the situation, and to reconvene within two months.
The senior State Department official disputed contentions that the U.S. government has lost interest in Venezuela, saying the administration this week would "demonstrate through words, through meetings and through action" its commitment to the effort.
The official predicted that President Trump would address Venezuela during his General Assembly speech on Tuesday.
--Kejal Vyas contributed to this article.
Write to Courtney McBride at firstname.lastname@example.org