NEWS
01/02/2019 13:42 GMT

Labour MP Richard Burgon Refuses To Say He Regrets Supporting Controversial Venezuelan Leader

“I still can’t hear if you regret it or not?”

A Labour MP has refused to say he regrets his long-standing support for embattled Venezuelan president, Nicholas Maduro, a deeply divisive leader who had led the country which is currently wracked with poverty, hyper-inflation and a political crisis threatening to split it in two.

Appearing on BBC Question Time on Thursday night, Richard Burgon repeatedly declined to acknowledge a tweet he posted in 2013 might have been misguided.

He wrote at the time: “Victory for the Labour Movement in Venezuela: bus driver, trade unionist and socialist Nicolas Maduro elected as President of Venezuela.”

Since Maduro has been in power, Venezuela has spiralled into economic collapse.

In a heated conversation with the programme’s new host Fiona Bruce, Burgon said:

BURGON: “In 1989, a few years before Chavez came to power, 3,000 people were killed in a single day protesting against the government.

“The vast majority of people lived in poverty, there wasn’t a healthcare system or an education system. That Chavez government did do some good things similar to the Labour government after the Second World War.

BRUCE: “No, we’re talking about, do you regret Labour’s support for Maduro previously?”

BURGON: “Well I tweeted congratulations to Maduro for being elected by the people in 2013 as a successor to Chavez who’s done many good things, but Venezuela’s always had problems.”

BRUCE: “I still can’t hear if you regret it or not?” 

BURGON: “I certainly don’t regret the introduction, under Chavez, of free healthcare and free education. But where we are now, talking about 2019, I’ve said that it doesn’t do anyone any good to pretend the situation is anything other than dire.

“But millions of people oppose Maduro’s government but millions of people support it as well. We want to avoid this spiralling into a civil war. It shouldn’t be used as a political football over here, it’s a serious matter and another intervention in an oil rich country from other rich countries, won’t help Venezuelans.

“So if we’re serious about helping Venezuelans in this dire situation, we should listen to the calls for negotiated talks from the Vatican, from Mexico, from Uruguay and other countries”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have long held up Venezuela as shining example of the benefits of socialism after Hugo Chavez took power in 1998. Critics say the country’s economic success has been more dependent on booming oil prices than the government’s policies.

The global financial crisis and the falling price of oil hit the country hard and by 2010, Venezuela was in deep recession, inflation was spiralling and the housing market was collapsing

At the time of Chavez’s death in 2013, Venezuela lacked basics such as toilet paper and coffee

Two years later and the socialist healthcare system implemented by Chavez had collapsed and Venezuelans were dying due to a lack of basic medical supplies

During this time, Labour MPs such as Burgon and Corbyn continued to celebrate the Venezuelan government.

In 2017 Corbyn was criticised after he condemned violence on “all sides”, while praising Maduro for “improving the lives of many of the poorest people”.

Successor Maduro, who took power following a contested election, has presided over skyrocketing inflation, a collapsing economy and widespread shortages of basic goods, with 90% of the population living in poverty.

The average Venezuelan has lost 10.8kg in weight over the last year in what is  sardonically referred to as “The Maduro Diet” – Maduro himself joked about it in a live TV broadcast in 2016. 

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