Hard-left lawmakers in France say Maduro no dictator

PARIS (Reuters) - Lawmakers from the hard-left France Unbowed party on Wednesday defended Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro against criticism from the United States and European Union following a disputed vote that gave the leader and his allies sweeping new powers.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (L) speaks next to National Electoral Council (CNE) President Tibisay Lucena during their meeting in Caracas, Venezuela July 31, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

The European Union said on Wednesday it was considering a range of actions in response to the crisis, a day after the United States imposed sanctions on Maduro, called him a “dictator” for Sunday’s election of a constituent assembly.

“It’s not a dictatorship,” France Unbowed legislator Eric Coquerel told CNews. “Judgments can be made on political repression, judgments can also be made on how Maduro is trying to solve a difficult situation.”

About 120 people have been killed in more than four months of anti-government protests against Maduro’s tightening hold on power amid an economic crisis marked by rising poverty levels, the world’s highest inflation rate, and chronic food shortages.

France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Melenchon saw a surge in support during his failed presidential bid this year. The party has capitalized on disarray in the mainstream left and right-wing parties to become a more powerful political voice, even if it only has a small number of parliamentarians.

The government of President Emmanuel Macron has condemned the violence and said it regretted that mediation efforts had so far floundered.

Melenchon has remained silent. Melenchon, a former Troskyist, has always called Venezuela’s former leader Hugo Chavez a political hero.

Buried in Melenchon’s election manifesto was a proposal that France join the ALBA grouping, formally known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America, created by Chavez and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He said this could be done through France’s Caribbean territories.

A second France Unbowed parliamentarian said the French public was being misinformed about events in Venezuela.

“We’re given the impression an entire country is against the government. It’s more complicated than that,” said Alexis Corbiere told RFI. “I’ll keep saying it, the Venezuelan opposition, since the beginning, has decided on force. There are armed protesters firing on the security forces.”

Reporting by Caroline Pailliez; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Alison Williams