Ken Livingstone has suggested the crisis in Venezuela is in part due to president Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez’s decision not to “kill all the oligarchs” in the country.
The former London mayor said when he met Maduro he found no reason to believe him to be anything other than a “genuine democratic socialist”.
Asked by TalkRadio what was behind the problems in the Latin American country, he said: “One of the things that Chavez did when he came to power, he didn’t kill all the oligarchs, there was about 200 families who controlled about 80% of the wealth in Venezuela he allowed them to live, to carry on.
“And I suspect a lot of them are using their power and control over imports and exports medicines and food to make it difficult and to undermine Maduro.”
Livingstone later said there had been “deliberate misreporting” of his comments.
“I have not said that Hugo Chávez should have killed anyone and nor would I ever advocate it. I even dispel this accusation in the very interview that is being extensively quoted,” he said in a statement.
“The point I was making is that contrary to some misrepresentations, Hugo Chávez didn’t repress the former ruling elite in Venezuela and many members of the former ruling elite have stayed in the country, seeking to overthrow elected Presidents through unconstitutional and violent means (including the coup in 2002) ever since.”
“The situation in Venezuela requires serious discussion in the media and not distorted, sensationalist media reporting aimed at creating clickbait.”
Maduro has faced international condemnation for his efforts to assume nearly unlimited powers and the apparent detention of leading Venezuelan opposition figures.
Livingstone’s comments come as Jeremy Corbyn faces calls to personally condemn the Venezuelan regime given his previous support for it.
Labour MP Graham Jones this morning raised concerns after shadow Home Office minister Chris Williamson, a close ally of Corbyn, criticised the United States for its “very shady record” of interference in Latin America, including funding opposition groups in the country.
The UK government has said it would consider backing a global effort for sanctions on Venezuela.
Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan has said the US was “absolutely right” to impose financial penalties on Maduro.
London-based Smartmatic, which provided the technology for Venezuela’s voting system, has also been accused by 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”.