Sinn Fein urged to re-think support for Venezuelan ‘despot’

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds up a small copy of the constitution as he speaks during his swearing-in ceremony at the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds up a small copy of the constitution as he speaks during his swearing-in ceremony at the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019

Sinn Fein should rethink its support for the “despot” ruler of Venezuela a DUP MP has declared, after the republican party sent envoys to his inauguration ceremony.

Jim Shannon, DUP MP for Strangford and the party’s designated human rights spokesman, was speaking after Sinn Fein dispatched Conor Murphy (MLA for Newry and Armagh) and Dawn Doyle (party general secretary) to the Latin American nation’s capital Caracas, for the swearing in ceremony of Nicolas Maduro Moros as president.

He will serve a six-year term following an election last May. It will be his second stint as president.

However, there was an opposition boycott of the vote, and international bodies severely criticised the running of the election, with the EU’s High Representative saying the process went ahead “without complying with the minimum international standards for a credible process, [and] not respecting political pluralism, democracy, transparency and rule of law”.

Mr Shannon, who has raised the issue of Venezuela in the Commons in the past, said the country is in a “dire situation” and “as a result of his election will get even worse again”.

He added: “[Sinn Fein] should be questioning whether the election was fair and did it give people the opportunity to vote in a fully democratic method like we have in this country, for instance. I’d suggest to them that it didn’t.

“I think they’ve a question to ask themselves.

“I think it’d be beholden better of Sinn Fein if they were highlighting the total autocratic power the president has and the way he carries out policing in his country, to the detriment of people who do not have any human rights.

“I’d be saying to Sinn Fein that they should be looking at their support for Maduro on the grounds of his legacy so far of devaluing human rights, his actions against protestors, the claims and allegations of torture and so on that have taken place, and of a country whose economy is falling apart.

“It’s a country ruled by a despot who has no regard whatsoever for his citizens.”

Last year’s vote happened amid a massive economic crisis, with Human Rights Watch reporting Venezuelans face “severe shortages of medicine, medical supplies, and food”.

There is a also intense hostility to dissent; Amnesty International recently condemned “excessive and undue force to disperse protests”.

And a report by the UN commissioner last year documented abuses which included killings carried out by the security forces during protests, “high levels of impunity” for those security forces, the use of “arbitrary detention”, and the use of torture (specifically “electric shocks, severe beatings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, suffocation with plastic bags and chemicals, mock executions and water deprivation”).

Venezuela’s attorney-general has given a tally of 505 people killed in security operations over a 20 month period in 2015-17, and it is estimated by the UN that over 2.3 million people left Venezuela between 2014 and 2017 under Maduro.

Among the international observers of the 2018 election process was Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard, who said in a statement at the time that it was “an honour” to have been invited by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council to take part, adding: “Sinn Fein have consistently supported the highest standards of human rights for all people.”

And in a Sinn Fein statement this week annoucing attendance at the inauguration, Conor Murphy said: “Nicolas Maduro Moros was democratically elected by the Venezuelan people to serve as their President during the term 2019-2025. We’ll use our presence in Venezuela to express our continuing solidarity to the people supporting their legitimate demands to build a just and equal society free from foreign intervention.”

In response to Mr Shannon’s criticism, Sinn Fein said it “will take no lectures from the DUP on human rights when they are propping up the Tories who plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and are committed to a disgraceful denial of rights to large sections of society in the north”.