Blair's Cuba and Venezuela policy under fire
Campaign News | Saturday, 18 February 2006
Labour MP calls diplomacy 'ham-fisted' in Guardian article
From the UK daily The Guardian
Blair shows a worrying disregard for democracy by parroting the US line on Chávez's legitimacy
Friday, February 17, 2006
While it is no secret that the US has frequently interfered harmfully in the domestic politics of Latin America, history generally regards UK policy as independent, unburdened by paranoia and largely constructive. But is this commendable attitude now under review?
At the most recent session of prime minister's questions, I asked Tony Blair if he shared the satisfaction of many Labour backbenchers at the progressive changes occurring across Latin America, most notably in Venezuela. I also requested reassurances that UK policy towards the region would not be shaped by the furious lobbying of rightwing Republican elements within the US.
The prime minister's response surprised many of us on the Labour benches. Skilled diplomat that he undoubtedly is, Blair's response seemingly lacked any nuance of diplomacy.
His assertion that Venezuela should "abide by the rules of the international community" lacked recognition of the country's democratic credentials. When one considers that Hugo Chávez won a electoral majority in 2002, survived an attempted coup thanks to massive public protests, and was the resounding winner of a referendum on his administration in 2004, the implied accusation seems inaccurate. It would be extremely helpful for Blair to clarify exactly what reservations he harbours regarding Venezuela's international legitimacy.
The prime minister also cited the alliance of Venezuela and Cuba as evidence of Chávez's international irresponsibility. Despite Cuba's astonishing achievements against 45 years of illegal US blockade, which includes extraterritorial legislation that severely constrains the interests of UK businesses, the Republican policy of disproportionate aggression towards Cuba may be attracting sympathy closer to home.
As reported recently, the Foreign Office hosted Caleb McCarry, a prominent US Republican with a mandate to "accelerate regime change" in Cuba. Commentators, academics and MPs have noticed a worrying tone in government statements on Cuba, observations that have been made worse by the reticence of the government on the details of this meeting.
After Blair's response to my question, Chávez labelled him "a pawn of imperialism". These developments are unwelcome to those of us who wish to promote the best possible relationship between Britain and Latin America. I firmly believe that our interests are best served by diplomacy and positive interaction, and I regret that there are no plans for a minister to travel to Caracas to forge links with the Chávez administration. The present US government has also decided not to engage with Chávez.
I am convinced that governments that act in the interests of the many and not the few are acting consistently with Labour values. Our party should support the mobilisation of wide-reaching free healthcare and education schemes, aimed at the reversal of decades of social inequality in South and Central America. The principle of national self-determination should also be at the core of any responsible Labour foreign policy.
It is time that the UK re-engaged with Latin America and offered moral support to regimes intent on social justice and redistribution of wealth. In light of our participation in the invasion of Iraq and the global perception of UK foreign policy, I believe it is highly advisable to employ constructive language and diplomacy, so that this country can interact with other sovereign states with an independent, open and progressive agenda. UK foreign policy should not be allowed to be hijacked by other states acting in their own interests, which may not be compatible with our own.
· Colin Burgon is the Labour MP for Elmet