Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza has accused the UK government of lying in its response to an investigation by The Canary.
Venezuela Reconstruction Unit
On 13 May, The Canary exposed a secretive unit within the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) planning for the “reconstruction” of Venezuela. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act also revealed private discussions between Venezuelan opposition figures and UK officials regarding the promotion of British business after a planned coup.
On 1 June, Richard Burgon MP questioned the secretary of state for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about this unit. He asked:
when that unit was established; how many staff that unit has; how many meetings that unit has held with representatives of the (a) Venezuelan government and (b) Venezuelan opposition; and how much Government funding has been allocated to that unit since it was established.
The Venezuela Reconstruction Unit is a small (one Head, and three part-time members including an external consultant) team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was established in 2019 to coordinate the UK approach to the international response to the dire economic and humanitarian situation in Venezuela. The UK is committed to working with international partners to bring a peaceful end to the appalling crisis in Venezuela, and the Venezuela Reconstruction Unit is a reflection of that commitment.
The Unit has visited Venezuela in order to understand the challenges and determine how the UK might help. The UK Ambassador ensured the regime were aware of the visit and spoke publicly about the Unit and its staff. The Unit has had contact with Juan Guaidó, whom the UK recognises as constitutional interim President of Venezuela, his representative in London and other Venezuelans. [emphasis added]
UK chargé d’affaires to the United Nations Jonathan Allen made similar claims on 29 May. Speaking to the president of the UN Security Council, Allen said:
The Unit has visited Venezuela twice, obtaining visas through the Embassy of the Maduro regime in London, in order to understand the challenges and determine how the United Kingdom might help. During the first visit, the Unit had diplomatic engagement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Maduro regime. On both visits, United Kingdom Ambassador Andrew Soper spoke publicly about the Unit and its staff.
“The United Kingdom lies”
The day after the original Canary investigation was published, Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza summoned the UK chargé d’affaires Duncan Hill to “present him with a formal protest and demand an explanation for the creation… of a Venezuela Reconstruction Unit”. He added that the UK government must “abandon Washington’s coup-mongering plans and any destabilizing initiative” in Venezuela.
Arreaza later told The Canary that he was “outraged” by the news, questioning if the UK “wanted to bomb and attack Venezuela like they did in Iraq, like they did in Afghanistan, like they did in Syria in order to reconstruct Venezuela with their companies and win profit out of Venezuelan tragedy and bloodshed?”.
Now, Arreaza has accused the UK government of lying in its claim that “the UK Ambassador ensured the regime were aware of the visit and spoke publicly about the Unit and its staff”.
In a Twitter post, the foreign minister declared:
The United Kingdom lies. They never mentioned a Venezuela Reconstruction Unit, nor would we have allowed it. We learned of it through @TheCanaryUK. They masked the destabilizing purpose of their visit with false internal meetings with their Embassy. Here’s the evidence.
Remarkably, Arreaza attached an official visa request for John Saville, head of the Venezuela Reconstruction Unit, which bore no mention of any such Unit. In fact, the official document states that Saville visited Venezuela “on official duty at the British Embassy Caracas to attend meetings”:
Notably, the FCO’s request for Saville to visit Venezuela came just two days before Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido met with members of the UK government in London, including Boris Johnson and foreign secretary Dominic Raab.
The Canary has asked the FCO to provide evidence to support its claim that the Venezuelan government was made aware of this Unit prior to Saville’s visit. At the time of publication, the UK government had not responded.
Featured image via screengrab/RTUK
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