Venezuelan crisis

Venezuela in crisis because Chavez let oligarchs live, says London’s ex-mayor Ken Livingstone

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 12:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 6:04pm

Ken Livingstone, a former mayor of London, has blamed the turmoil in Venezuela on Hugo Chávez’s unwillingness to execute “oligarchs” after he came to power.

Livingstone, who is suspended from the UK Labour party, also blamed the economic crisis in the country on the government’s failure to take his advice on investment in infrastructure, which he said would have reduced the Latin American state’s dependence on oil.

The former mayor, a longtime supporter of the late president Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro, said the socialist leader’s enemies wanted to restore their power.

Venezuelan arrests show Maduro moving fast to snatch power

“One of the things that Chávez did when he came to power, he didn’t kill all the oligarchs. There was about 200 families who controlled about 80 per cent of the wealth in Venezuela,” Livingstone told Talk Radio.

“He allowed them to live, to carry on. I suspect a lot of them are using their power and control over imports and exports to make it difficult and to undermine Maduro.”

Livingstone visited Venezuela during his time in office as mayor of London, striking a cut-price oil deal with Maduro to supply Transport for London. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has also regularly expressed his admiration for Chávez, saying in 2013 he was “an inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics in Europe”.

The country is in turmoil after the socialist government was granted sweeping powers to overhaul the political system in a disputed recent poll that was boycotted by the opposition.

The London-based company Smartmatic, which provides the technological platform for the country’s voting system, has said results had been manipulated by at least a million votes. Maduro has since said the company had been “pressured to the neck by the gringos and the Brits”.

The new constitutional assembly elected via the disputed poll is a body made up entirely of the ruling Socialist party and its political allies, which will now have the ability to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.

The election came after months of violent protests killed more than 120 people, amid rising food and medicine prices as inflation soared after falling oil prices.

Livingstone said the Latin American country had not taken his advice to reduce its dependence on oil. “When I was in Venezuela, I advised their minister of finance … he ignored my advice. I advised him to start massive investment in infrastructure to stop the economy’s dependence on oil, and he didn’t do that – and I think that’s one of their problems,” he said.

The former mayor said he had not any indication that Maduro had an authoritarian streak when he negotiated with the then foreign minister for the £16million (US$21million) worth of oil every year for Transport for London in exchange for expert advice on urban planning. “Nothing threatening, nothing arrogant about him,” Livingstone said.

Livingstone said reports that security agents had seized two opposition leaders from their homes after they called for protests against the vote was “propaganda circulating around the world”.

“People are trying to overthrow the government, you have armed opposition killing people,” he said. “You’ve got a blockade of food and medicine. If there was any evidence that Maduro wants to impose a one-party state I would immediately oppose that.”