Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin, Conservative)
Those are helpful remarks. President Lula rose from very humble beginnings; he was a shoeshine boy, so he knows the pressures of poverty. President Chavez is a former paratrooper. David Taylor made a comment about parachuting in one of my colleagues; President Chavez would know how to parachute into another location.
Latin America needs leaders who send out clear signals to the investment community that their countries are safe, secure and stable and a good place in which to do business. One of the unfortunate things about President Chavez is his rhetoric, which seems to be ratcheting up week by week. In the past week or so there have been comments about imperial enemies; there has been the so-called crusade against capitalism—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]—and there is the axis between Cuba, which has a terrible human rights record, and President Chavez. If Labour Members wish to put in jeopardy their constituents' pension funds, which may be in investments in companies such as British Gas, they can carry on cheering President Chavez and President Castro of Cuba. We cannot have a divestment of British interests in Venezuela; those interests cannot be put at risk by a president who is sending out entirely the wrong signals to the investment community.
Of course, the situation has a negative halo effect on the rest of Latin America. There are many success stories in Latin America, and it would be most unfortunate if, as a result of one rogue president, the investment community decides to invest elsewhere. There are good examples, such as President Lula. I was in Peru a few weeks ago, and presidential elections are coming up there in the next two or three weeks. I had the privilege of meeting several of the presidential candidates. One in particular, Lourdes Flores, is very impressive. I hope that President Chavez will be far more responsible in his rhetoric.
Of course, the issue affects UK relations directly. We know that President Chavez has been encouraging Argentina to look again at the Falkland Islands, and to make yet more protests at the United Nations. That is disturbing to me and, no doubt, to others who fought to bring the Falkland Islands back under the Union flag.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that there has been anti-American rhetoric in this House yet again; indeed, we hear it all the time. It is not the Washington model that is causing President Chavez to threaten neighbours and use anti-American and anti-British rhetoric; it is an International Monetary Fund model, and a World Bank model, that Latin American countries have been following. It is an international model with international consensus, in which Britain plays a part, that Latin American countries have been asked to follow in relation to their fiscal and borrowing policies.
I hope that the Minister will confirm today that there will be no more closure of UK diplomatic missions and embassies in Latin America, given that it is becoming increasingly important in our own foreign policy. I hope also that he will confirm that we will continue to have a commercial presence, through our embassies, in as many Latin American countries as we currently do, so that British interests are protected, and so that we can take the opportunities available in the region.