Not right for US to impose sanctions on Venezuela during crisis - Corbyn ally

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BRITAIN-ELECTION/

A Labour frontbench ally of Jeremy Corbyn has criticised sanctions imposed by the United States on Venezuela.

Shadow Home Office minister Chris Williamson said it "can't be right" for the US to pursue such an approach when there is a "massive crisis" in the South American country.

He also criticised the US for its "very shady record" of interference in Latin America, including funding opposition groups in Venezuela.

The UK Government has said it would consider backing a global effort for sanctions on Venezuela, with Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan insisting the US was "absolutely right" to impose financial penalties on the country's president, Nicolas Maduro.

MPs, including party colleagues, have called on Labour leader Mr Corbyn to personally condemn the Venezuelan regime, given his previous support for it under socialist Hugo Chavez and his successor, Mr Maduro.

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.

Labour MP Mr Williamson told the BBC's Newsnight: "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.

"I'm yet to hear any criticism of the right-wing opposition or indeed the United States' intervention there and the sanctions.

"And 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.

"Just imagine if this was happening in this country or indeed in the United States of America - many of the people involved in those protests, if it was in the US, would be facing prison terms of between five and 20 years."

GMB general secretary Tim Roache, asked if his union and the Labour leadership should condemn what is happening in Venezuela, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The GMB has been affiliates of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign for many years. That will continue."

He added: "That solidarity has always been about the Venezuelan people and the rights of Venezuelan people.

"We need to see an end to the bloodshed, of course, we need to ensure the government respects human rights, but we must have talking and not more guns."

Pressed on whether he and Mr Corbyn should condemn the events in Venezuela, Mr Roache replied: "Of course we should ensure that human rights prevail in Venezuela, and that's about talking and not guns."

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".