NEW ZEALAND Prime Minister John Key is not planning on attending the funeral of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, despite currently being in the region.
Key expressed his condolences after the death of the controversial president, but he won’t be going to the funeral service in Caracas on Saturday.
He is on a ten-day trade mission in Latin America, with a number of meetings being postponed because of Chavez’s death.
Former Green MP Keith Locke criticised Key’s decision, saying he is wasting a chance to rub shoulders with leaders in the increasingly influential region.
“He seems blind to what the funeral will be: a major gathering of Latin American leaders to mourn the death of an incumbent president,” Locke told Fairfax NZ.
“Mr Key has the good fortune to be in Latin America, and could easily attend… Mr Key’s excuse, that New Zealand has “not much really in the form of a political relationship” is beside the point. This is a funeral, attended by the Latin American presidents who are hosting Mr Key on his trip, and our Prime Minister should be there. He is missing a great opportunity to show his support to the whole of Latin America.”
Key shrugged off suggestions that a potential New Zealand presence would upset the United States, who frequently clashed with the socialist leader over his policies and support for Syria and Iran.
Washington announced today it would send a delegation to the funeral.
Locke said: “One suspects Mr Key’s diplomatic judgement is being clouded by the strong criticism of the left-wing Chavez administration by the United States ringing in his ears.”
Key, currently in Colombia, said Chavez was a popular leader who would be mourned by his people.
The two had never met, but Key saw him deliver a speech in Denmark in 2009.
Chavez died on cancer in a Cuban hospital after a two-year illness.
“It’s obviously a very sad moment for Venezuela and for the people of Venezuela,” Key said.” I’m sure they will miss him greatly and obviously our condolences go to the Chavez family and the people of Venezuela.”