NEWS
03/08/2017 09:33 BST | Updated 04/08/2017 00:03 BST

Corbyn Ally Is 'Backing The Wrong Side' In Venezuela Crisis, Labour MP Says

A Jeremy Corbyn ally has been accused of "backing the wrong side" in Venezuela, amid Labour tensions over its leadership's response to the crisis in the South American state.

Labour MP Graham Jones raised concerns after shadow Home Office minister Chris Williamson criticised the United States for its "very shady record" of interference in Latin America, including funding opposition groups in Venezuela.

Mr Williamson added it "can't be right" for the US to pursue financial sanctions against Venezuela when there is a "massive crisis" in the country, while he also sidestepped questions over whether his political philosophy is closer to Tony Blair or Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor Hugh Chavez.

Mr Jones questioned the Labour frontbencher's response, noting: "You don't have to be a supporter of Tony Blair to know that the answer is Tony Blair.

"Low inflation, growing economy, huge investment in public services versus Venezuela - rampant corruption, inflation at 720%, public services collapsing. It's not a difficult question if you're a Blair supporter or not."

MPs, including party colleagues, have called on Labour leader Mr Corbyn to personally condemn the Venezuelan regime, given his previous support for it. 

As a backbencher, Mr Corbyn hailed Mr Chavez as an "inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neo-liberal economics in Europe" and supported parliamentary motions linked to the country, including one which congratulated Mr Maduro on his election as president and called for closer ties between Venezuela and the UK.

Mr Maduro has faced international condemnation for his efforts to assume nearly unlimited powers and the apparent detention of leading Venezuelan opposition figures.

Mr Jones said shadow Foreign Office minister Liz McInnes had made a "strong statement" - endorsed by Mr Corbyn's office - about the need for Mr Maduro's government to respect the rule of law and human rights.

The chairman of the new all-party parliamentary group on Venezuela also told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think Jeremy at some point will have to make a statement, but it's down to each individual what they say and when they say it.

"As far as the party is concerned, Liz has made a statement - I think it was published in all the press.

"I would have gone further and I think more needs to be taken. I think we need to reflect on, and part of the I suppose critique of Chris's argument is he's backing the wrong side.

"Our sister parties are the third, fourth and fifth-largest parties in Venezuela. We're not affiliated to Chavez, never have been and his PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) is not affiliated to any international socialist organisation."

Labour frontbencher Mr Williamson criticised the US during an interview with the BBC's Newsnight, saying: "Clearly the circumstances have changed substantially in Venezuela over recent years - the collapse in the oil price and of course these violent protests which have been aided and abetted by the United States of America, who have been funding opposition groups and have a very shady record, going back many decades, of interfering in Latin America, right back to Chile where President Nixon said he was going to make the economy scream.

"We've had these manufactured shortages, with factory-owners stopping production of products to create these shortages in the shops." 

Mr Williamson also said he was not an "apologist" for the Venezuelan government, adding: "Clearly they've made mistakes, they didn't do enough to diversify the economy.

"But look, they're under incredible pressure and there's a very one-sided, one-eyed view of the situation there very often in the British media."

He questioned why there had not been criticism of the "right-wing opposition" or the US, adding: "Clearly it can't be right, can it, that in a situation where there is a massive crisis in Venezuela at the moment to impose sanctions on the country. 

"Surely it'd be far better, wouldn't it, to try and bring the sides together to facilitate talks and to encourage the right-wing opposition to stop these protests on the streets."

London-based Smartmatic, which provided the technology for Venezuela's voting system, has also been accused by Mr Maduro of bowing to US pressure to "stain" the election results.

The president's criticism came after Smartmatic chief executive Antonio Mugica said turnout in the controversial vote to overhaul Venezuela's political system was overstated by "at least one million votes".

Mr Corbyn's team said they would not comment on Mr Williamson's interview at present.