Venezuela
Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
2:30 pm

Photo of Mr David Borrow

Mr David Borrow (South Ribble, Labour)

If he will make a statement on the situation in Venezuela.

Photo of Mr Denis MacShane

Mr Denis MacShane (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Rotherham, Labour)

The Government deplored the removal of President Chavez from office following the strike organised by the CTV trade union confederation and the employers federation against him and we welcome the return of constitutional democracy in Venezuela.

Photo of Mr David Borrow

Mr David Borrow (South Ribble, Labour)

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware that, under President Chavez, Venezuela has played a much more active role in OPEC. Will he explain what discussions have taken place between the British and Venezuelan Governments about the importance of oil price stability and tell us whether those discussions have been successful?

Photo of Mr Denis MacShane

Mr Denis MacShane (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Rotherham, Labour)

When I was in Venezuela, I had a long conversation with President Chavez on that very subject. The assurance that he gave me is important and is worth putting on the record not only in this country, but internationally. He assured me that he would play a full part in guaranteeing that OPEC price stability would be maintained—when I spoke to him, there was a threat that Saddam Hussein would cut off oil production—and that there would be no threat to oil supplies and no threat of a sudden rise in the price of oil. He said that he would telephone Mr. Ali Rodriguez of OPEC to convey that message immediately. I was very grateful for that assurance.

Photo of Mr Derek Conway

Mr Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup, Conservative)

Does the Minister accept that the all-party group on Venezuela, which I happen to chair, will be very grateful for and pleased with his comments? Will he tell the House whether President Chavez offered the British Government any of the proof that he claims to have showing that two United States military agents were involved in plotting the coup, recorded on video and in photographic evidence?

Photo of Mr Denis MacShane

Mr Denis MacShane (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Rotherham, Labour)

The answer is no. I am pleased that an all-party group of MPs will shortly visit Venezuela.

I have seen no evidence at all to back up any of those allegations, which were not, to my knowledge, made directly by the President himself, but by a number of newspaper reporters. What is important is that as soon as his removal from office became public news, every Government in Latin America, many of whom are quite critical of him, said, as did the British Government, that only a return to democratic and constitutional law and politics would be accepted in Venezuela. That was the right approach by the Government, and we should sustain that position.

Photo of Mr John Cryer

Mr John Cryer (Hornchurch, Labour)

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments about the failure of the coup, although I do not remember his saying that at the time when the coup was happening. Will he take this opportunity not only to condemn the plotters and coup masters, but the United States Government for their failure both to condemn the coup when it was going on and to welcome the return of President Chavez?

Photo of Mr Denis MacShane

Mr Denis MacShane (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Rotherham, Labour)

I am responsible, in this area, for what this Government do. If my hon. Friend would care to turn to www.fco.gov.uk and look for my statement of Friday 12 April, he will see a condemnation of the coup and a demand that constitutional democracy be restored. As far as I know, other than Latin American Governments we were one of the only leading Governments to make such a statement at the time. That is the message for Latin America—democracy rules. Perhaps my hon. Friend could have a friendly talk with some of his trade union friends in Venezuela, who organised the strike that led to President Chavez's disappearance.

Photo of Mr Crispin Blunt

Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate, Conservative)

Does the Minister think that it serves democracy when on the day after an elected President is removed from office he is described by a Foreign Office Minister as a ranting populist demagogue?

Photo of Mr Denis MacShane

Mr Denis MacShane (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Rotherham, Labour)

I am happy again to place on the record the fact that the Government condemned the coup and called for the return of constitutional democracy. Having been a Member of this House for eight years, I have had continually to listen to ranting populist demagogues on the Benches opposite, and I need no lessons from that quarter in how I describe people around the world.