POLITICS

Podemos compares Spanish leader Rajoy with Venezuela’s Maduro

Anti-austerity party says both are talking about other countries instead of addressing the problems in their own

Pablo Iglesias and Pablo Echenique at a meeting last week in Córdoba.
Pablo Iglesias and Pablo Echenique at a meeting last week in Córdoba.Rafa Alcaide / EFE

The leadership of Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos has criticized Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s recent verbal attacks on Spain, censuring him for his comments that the South American country was the victim of an “international conspiracy”.

But at the same time, Podemos number three official Pablo Echenique has compared Maduro to Spain’s acting prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, saying: “Mr Maduro is doing what Mariano Rajoy is doing, which is to talk about another country so as not to have to talk about his own. He is using the same tactic and it is equally censurable.”

Venezuela is a sensitive issue for Podemos. A number of its founders had close ties to the ruling United Socialist Party founded by the late Hugo Chávez. Podemos will try to keep the issue out of the campaign in the run-up to elections in June, particularly in light of its recent pact with the Communist Party-led United Left.

Venezuela is a senstive issue for Podemos. A number of its founders have had close ties to the ruling United Socialist Party founded by Hugo Chávez in the past

Iglesias has refused to comment on the deepening crisis in Venezuela, where President Maduro has declared a state of emergency. But in a radio interview with state broadcaster Radio Nacional de España, Echenique said he was worried about the situation in Venezuela, as well as expressing approval for the mediation efforts of former Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has flown to Caracas as part of an international mission aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the standoff between the government and the opposition.

But Echenique was also critical of Rajoy.

“We see Rajoy talking about Greece and Venezuela, when he should be talking more about Spain, which is where the people he governs face very real problems,” he said.

Ciudadanos reacts

J. J. M.

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, who will travel to Venezuela next week to support the opposition, on Thursday criticized Podemos’ comparison.

“All of Spain knows what Podemos is, where its foundation got its financing,” said Rivera, alluding to funds received by the anti-austerity party from the late Hugo Chávez.

“Last April, 75% of Congress voted in favor of freedom, amnesty for political prisoners and human rights in Venezuela, and Podemos voted the Maduro button, looking the other way,” he said on a television interview on A3.

Echenique said he was “enormously worried” about Venezuela, as well as concerned about the situation overall in Latin America: “The countries of Latin America are not just our brothers - we are tied through trade and culture. I am very concerned about the situation in Venezuela, I am very worried about the situation in Brazil, I am very worried when I see people killed by drug cartels in Mexico, I am very worried about the president of Argentina having companies in tax havens.”

The Podemos official called on Spain to play a bigger mediating role in Latin America. “That’s why I think that Mr. Zapatero’s intentions are good,” he said.

But Podemos does not want Venezuela becoming an issue in the election campaign. The situation of the country’s political prisoners polarized opinion in Congress over the course of the last legislature. Podemos deputies abstained from voting in a draft bill proposed by the conservative Popular Party and supported by the Socialists, Ciudadanos, and the Basque Nationalist Party, calling on Spain to take measures to free opposition leaders held in Venezuela.

“We shouldn’t make political capital out of the serious situation that many Latin American countries are going through, something that a lot of political forces in our country are doing, particularly the ruling party,” said Echenique.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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