Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, has said Venezuela’s government has a duty to answer concerns about Nicolás Maduro’s “increasingly authoritarian rule”, as pressure mounted on Jeremy Corbyn to speak out.
The party leader was a longtime admirer of Venezuela under its late socialist leader Hugo Chávez, saying in 2013 he was “an inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics in Europe”.
Corbyn has also previously given his backing to Maduro, Chávez’s successor. In 2014, he rang to congratulate the new president live on a Venezuelan television channel, where Maduro introduced the Labour leader as a “friend of Venezuela”.
Thornberry’s spokesman said Labour had already called for the Venezuelan government to respect human rights and the rule of law, after the socialist government was granted sweeping powers to overhaul the country’s political system in a disputed recent poll that was boycotted by the opposition.
Security agents have since seized two opposition leaders from their homes after they called for protests against the vote. Widespread protests against the government have been going on since April amid mounting food and medicine prices driven by plunging oil prices, with more than 121 people killed in the unrest.
On Wednesday, Thornberry’s spokesman said Labour had already called for the government to respect human rights.
“Our official statement on Monday called on the Venezuelan government to respect human rights and the rule of law, said the election must not be treated as a mandate for further repression and violence, and challenged President Maduro personally to answer the legitimate concerns of the international community about his increasingly authoritarian rule,” the spokesman said. “That remains the Labour party’s position today.”
In a statement earlier this week, the shadow foreign minister, Liz McInnes, said Labour urged all sides to end the bloodshed. “In particular, we urge the government of Venezuela to recognise its responsibilities to protect human rights, free speech and the rule of law,” she said.
“If he [Maduro] believes those concerns are misplaced, it is up to him to prove them wrong, not through his words, but through his deeds.”
On Tuesday, the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, accused Maduro of behaving like the “dictator of an evil regime” in the wake of the poll that gave his ruling socialist party enhanced powers.
The Foreign Office said it had withdrawn the families of its embassy staff and instructed Britons that they should consider leaving the country.
The European Union has condemned “the excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces” and said it had serious doubts whether the election could be recognised. On Wednesday, one of the companies who worked on the voting system for Venezuela’s constituent assembly election said it believed results were inflated by at least 1m votes.
Others in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet have also historically supported the socialist Venezuelan government, including the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, who said in 2015 that the government in Latin America “showed there is an alternative to the agenda of austerity, cuts, privatisation and unemployment”.
On Wednesday, Labour MP Angela Smith said Corbyn needed to speak out about the deteriorating situation in Venezuela. “I think Corbyn needs to condemn the actions of the Venezuelan regime, which are a very serious threat to democracy in that country,” she said.
Corbyn’s spokeswoman said the party’s statements were clear. “The Labour party’s statement on Monday made clear our position on the importance of the respect for the rule of law and human rights,” she said. “We’re watching the situation and developments in Venezuela closely.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010