By Samuel Chamberlain
Published May 08, 2019
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decried U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn's support for disputed Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro Wednesday as "disgusting" and "not in either of our countries' best interests."
"It is disgusting to see leaders, in not only the United Kingdom but the United States as well, who continue to support the murderous dictator Maduro,” Pompeo said during a joint news conference alongside his U.K. counterpart Jeremy Hunt. “It is not in either of our country’s best interests for those leaders to continue to advocate on their behalf.”
Pompeo did not name Corbyn in his remarks, but the opposition leader repeatedly has criticized what he's called "outside interference" in Venezuela by the U.S. and other Western powers who have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the South American country's rightful leader.
"The Venezuelan people have spoken through their constitutional mechanism. They have put Juan Guaidó as their interim president. He is the duly elected leader there. Maduro is on borrowed time," Pompeo said. "To see American leaders, or leaders from this country, to continue to provide support and comfort to a regime that has created so much devastation, so much destruction … no leader in a country with Western democratic values ought to stand behind them."
Hunt joined in the attack, calling out John McDonnell, who as shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer is the second-ranking person in the Labour leadership. In January, McDonnell and other prominent Labour politicians signed a letter to the Guardian newspaper decrying what they called "the US attempt at regime change" in Venezuela.
"This is a country [Venezuela] where three million people have fled the country, GDP has gone down by 40 percent in the last four years, people can’t access basic medicine and people are rifling through rubbish bags to get food," Hunt said. "John McDonnell describes this as socialism in action and people need to draw their own conclusions about what his plans might be for the U.K."
"We oppose outside interference in Venezuela, whether from the US or anywhere else," a Labour spokesperson told Business Insider. "The future of Venezuela is a matter for Venezuelans."
The letter signed by McDonnell and others echoed the language used by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who has accused the Trump administration of "bullying" the Venezuelan government and claimed that the White House's policies had "kind of helped lead the devastation" in that country. That prompted a biting response from Vice President Pence, who told Fox News last week: "The congresswoman doesn't know what she's talking about."
On Tuesday, Pence said the U.S. would extend sanctions to all members of Venezuela's Supreme Court if they continue to prop up Maduro. The U.S. already has lobbed sanctions on about 150 officials and businesses in the country. On the same day, the court opened a criminal investigation against six opposition lawmakers for allegedly "betraying the homeland" and "instigating an insurrection" following last week's failed uprising.
Maduro has fallen under increasing international pressure after he was elected last year to a second six-year term that critics said was rigged. Russia, China and Cuba, among other countries, have supported Maduro while the U.S. and more than 50 other nations have backed Guaidó.
A group of mostly European nations said Tuesday it was looking to send a high-level delegation to Caracas in the coming days. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini made the announcement in Costa Rica after a meeting of the countries. The International Contact Group has aimed to facilitate free presidential elections in Venezuela as soon as possible, a goal that it's shared with Guaidó.
Maduro has said he's the target of a U.S.-engineered coup plot and has denounced the Guaidó-led congress, instead recognizing a rival assembly packed with government loyalists set up in 2017.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.