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Hugo Chavez’s death turns Venezuelan politics upside down; so too, John Key’s Latin American swing

John Key tour - Colombia  The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had the Prime Minister’s staff burning the midnight oil at a humid hotel on the Colombian coast to recalibrate the Chilean part of his four country Latin American swing to accommodate the wish of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera to attend Chavez’s state funeral.

The state funeral is due to take place in Caracas on Friday (Latin American time) and will be attended by a raft of Latin American leaders including Pinera. Key’s schedule had him meeting the Chilean president in Santiago early that evening.

But a compromise has been reached. Key will now dine with Pinera in Santiago on Thursday evening. The formal bilateral meeting will take place on Saturday morning, still leaving Key sufficient time to visit Fonterra’s Soprole plant in Puerto Muntt before trekking north again for the final leg of his Latin American swing in Brazil.

Pinera recalled Chavez as a man who “was profoundly committed to the integration of Latin America,” according to a statement on the government website.

In Bogata this morning, Key paid tribute to Chavez. New Zealand will be represented at the funeral. It would have been out of sync if he had not expressed his thoughts for the Venezuelan people and the Chavaz family. Key could have taken his cue from US president Barack Obama who said it created a chance to build a constructive relationship with the US. But he played it safe with by rolling out the usual anodyne sentiments.

In Brazil, the region’s biggest economy, President Dilma Rousseff said Latin America’s poor lost an important ally, and Mexican

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President Enrique Pena Nieto – who Key met yesterday – sent his condolences to Chavez’s family and the Venezuelan people via Twitter.

Yesterday, a bilateral meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was shifted to the hill top Castillo when teachers protesting against the president’s education reforms and the replacement of teachers’ union official who had embezzled $US200m of union funds gathered outside the original venue the National Palace.

Key meets Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos later today and will also visit Club El Nogal which was the scene of a massive car bomb terror attack in 2003.

The talks will cover Colombia’s bid to join the OECD, and New Zealand’s hope for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.





About Fran O'Sullivan

Fran O’Sullivan is Managing Director of NZ INC. She is a former editor of the National Business Review and a prominent columnist for the New Zealand Herald, where she writes on business, politics, and international affairs, and manages the annual high-profile Mood of the Boardroom project. Fran took up the position of Editorial Director – Business for NZME in April 2015.

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