The Italian community in Venezuela must play a leading role in the crisis-hit country's "moral, economic and social" rebirth, foreign under-secretary Ricardo Merlo said on Thursday, according to a foreign ministry statement.
To loud applause, Merlo told members of the Italian community in Carcacas: "We must already start thinking about how to be protagonists in the near future of the political, moral, economic and social reconstruction of Venezuela," the statement cited Merlo as saying.
Also present at the meeting were Italy's ambassador to Venezuela Silvio Mignano, the consuls of Maracaibo and Caracas, representative body Comites president Ugo Di Martino and the governmental and parliamentary consultative organisation Cgie's Venezuela's councillor, Nello Collevecchio, said the statement.
Some 250 compatriots attended the high-security meeting at the Italo-Venezuelan Center, where Merlo briefed them on the Italian government's position and how it intends to protect its community in Venezuela, the statement said.
The Italian consulate in the northwest city of Maracaibo will reopen and staff there will be boosted to offer "efficient and timely" services, while it and the consulate in Caracas could be relocated to more modern, spacious and secure premises, the statement added.
Merlo was due on Thursday to attend a meeting in Caracas of the European Union led Contact Group set up in January as part of diplomatic efforts to end the protracted crisis in Venezuela. The group includes Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain as well as four Latin American countries - Ecuador, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Bolivia.
No agenda has been made public for Thursday's Venezuela Contact Group meeting, according to the statement.
Malnutrition and disease have spread in Venezuela, which has endured the deepest economic depression in modern history among countries not at war and where some 5,500 people are fleeing the country each day amid shortages of food and medicines, skyrocketing hyperinflation and power cuts.
Tensions have escalated in the country following opposition leader Juan Guaido's failed attempt to overthrow the socialist government in a military uprising at the end of April. Venezuela’s opposition claims that president Nicolas Maduro’s election last year was illegitimate and has called on him to step aside.