efe-epaWashington

The Venezuelan government on Friday formally notified the Organization of American States that it is withdrawing from the 34-member group, though under OAS rules the exit won't take effect until 2019.

Venezuelan envoy Carmen Velasquez came to the body's Washington headquarters to deliver a letter renouncing the 1948 charter founding the OAS, the first step toward withdrawal.

Caracas decided to leave the organization after Wednesday's vote by a majority of the members to convene a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the political crisis in Venezuela, despite the adamant opposition of the Venezuelan government.

Venezuela has been critical of the OAS since 1999, when the late Hugo Chavez became president and began turning the oil-rich Andean nation to the left, a policy continued by successor Nicolas Maduro.

For nearly a decade, Caracas-friendly governments in Latin America prevented the OAS from taking official stands on internal matters in Venezuela.

But with the coming to power of the right in countries such as Argentina and Brazil, the organization has become increasingly assertive in regard to Venezuela.

The current OAS secretary-general, Luis Almagro, has called for the invocation of the Democratic Charter - which includes the possibility of sanctions - in response to the increasing acrimony between government and opposition in Venezuela.

Until now, no member-state has ever sought to withdraw from the OAS.

The organization's rules mandate a two-year exit process, during which time the departing member retains all of the rights and obligations of OAS membership.

Those obligations include respecting representative democracy, human rights, the separation of powers, and freedom of expression.

The Venezuelan opposition and its allies abroad accuse the Maduro government of being anti-democratic and oppressive.