Venezuela quietly lobbied Nepal's ruling party to release a strong statement condemning the US and its allies, sources say

- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Jan 27, 2019-

A statement by a top leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party on Venezuela has become an albatross around the government's neck, as Foreign Ministry officials scrambled on Sunday to form an official position on the unfolding political crisis in the Latin American nation.

The statement issued by Pushpa Kamal Dahal on behalf of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) on Friday categorically denounced what it called the United States and its allies’ “intervention in the internal affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela with the intention of increasing violence by dividing the people and challenging democracy, sovereignty and peace.”

Since it was first published, the statement has triggered a debate over whether it is the official position of the KP Sharma Oli administration.

In an interview with the Post on Sunday, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said the government would clarify its position on the latest political crisis in Venezuela “at an appropriate time”.

“We are collecting information on what is happening in Venezuela. There is no need to make a position immediately,” Gyawali said, but stopped short of elaborating the statement issued by a co-chairman of his own party.

Dahal’s statement came out at a time when Oli, Gyawali and other senior government officials were in Davos, Switzerland to participate in the World Economic Forum.

Upon his return on Saturday, Oli told reporters at the Tribhuvan International Airport that he was unaware of any statement issued by his party--and co-chairman for that matter--on Venezuela’s political crisis. He refused to comment further on the statement, saying that he had only heard about it upon arriving in Kathmandu.

Immediately after the NCP issued the statement, the US Embassy in Kathmandu requested clarification on Friday from the Foreign Ministry whether the release reflected the official position of the government of Nepal. The US mission also said that it was looking forward to a response.

The statement has triggered a debate over whether it is the official position of the KP Sharma Oli administration.

When Juan Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, proclaimed himself the country's interim president on January 23, Washington was quick to throw its weight behind him, recognising him as the new head of the state. The dramatic event took place just days after Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second six-year term in office following the controversial elections in May.

Maduro, who has long accused Washington of trying to unseat him, responded by setting a 72-hour deadline for the US diplomats to leave the country.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while addressing the United Nations Security Council in New York, said that it was now time for countries to “pick a side” on Venezuela after Washington recognised Guaidó as the nation’s head of state. He also urged countries to disconnect financially from Maduro’s government.

What prompted Dahal to issue an official statement on the Venezuela crisis is still unclear, but some leaders from the ruling party say it was done at the behest of a “strong lobby group” from Venezuela that requested Nepal’s ruling party to support its democratically elected leader.

A group of ruling party leaders told the Post that they were not sure whether Dahal had had prior discussions with Oli before issuing the statement, which is in line with the position China, Russia and a number of other countries have maintained on Venezuela, criticising the role of the US and its allies.

Balram Baskota, one of the ruling party leaders who visited Venezuela during Maduro’s oath-taking ceremony, said Dahal himself drafted the statement. Baskota had met Dahal on Friday before the statement was made public.

“I visited Venezuela for Maduro’s oath-taking ceremony. But I did not lobby with Dahal to issue the statement,” Baskota told the Post over the phone. “However, similar statements were issued by other communist parties in India, Bangladesh and other countries.”

The statement released on Friday calls the Trump administration’s move “an unacceptable intrusion” in the country’s internal affairs and an “attempt of imperialist coup.” “The US has been trying to create chaos and violence putting inhuman economic sanctions and threatening military intervention in Venezuela since last decade,” it continues.

The initial draft of the statement, which the Post saw a copy of, however, did not have the name of any country and it had simply called on all to respect all parties to uphold the democratically-elected government. “This was drafted by a member of the publicity department of the ruling party,” an NCP leader told the Post.

But the statement that came into public domain had several changes, which took place, according to the sources, after strong lobbying from the Venezuelan side. Terms such as “denounce”, “imperialist” and “democratically elected” were added later, one ruling party leader who asked to stay anonymous told the Post.

Foreign Ministry officials said Nepal’s Embassy in Brazil, which is accredited to look after Venezuela, has been asked to send updates on the political situation in Caracas.

But Foreign Ministry officials would not confirm whether they had responded to the request of the US Embassy in Nepal, asking to clarify whether the ruling party’s statement on Venezuela was the official position of the government of Nepal.

Published: 28-01-2019 07:00

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