THE Vatican has called on Venezuela’s government to abandon its attempts to change the constitution, which have exacerbated the political crisis rocking the unstable South American nation.
Elections in July to the new Constituent Assembly were boycotted by the opposition, resulting in the new body’s being dominated by those loyal to the increasingly authoritarian president, Nicolas Maduro.
The Assembly has now unilaterally declared itself to be the supreme law-making body, superseding the National Congress, which has a majority of opposition MPs. President Maduro has ruled by decree since 2015.
Protests against what some see as an attempt by President Maduro to tighten his grip on power have erupted in most of Venezuela’s capital cities, leading to violent clashes between demonstrators and the security forces.
A statement by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State said that Pope Francis was closely following the deteriorating situation. “The Holy See asks that all political actors, and in particular the government, guarantee full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said. The government must respond to the “grave sufferings” of the Venezuelan people, and in particular to the shortages of food and medicines, the Vatican said. “Finally, the Holy See addresses a heartfelt appeal to the entire society to avoid any form of violence, inviting the security forces in particular to abstain from the excessive and disproportionate use of force.”
The latest attempt to rewrite the constitution through the contentious Constituent Assembly, fomented a climate of tension and confrontation and puts the future at stake, instead of favouring reconciliation and peace, the Vatican statement said.
The RC Church in Venezuela, which represents about 70 per cent of the population, has increasingly been at loggerheads with the Maduro regime, and church officials have frequently demanded the release of political prisoners, including the opposition leader, Leopoldo López, and have spoken out against the violent reaction to protests in the streets.
The UN’s human rights office has blamed government forces for 46 deaths since the latest protests began, and pro-government militias for a further 27. Thousands have been arbitrarily detained, and many tortured.
The Washington Post reports that the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr Arturo Sosa, has criticised the regime’s approach as “a system of domination, not a political system that has legitimacy to function in tranquillity”. President Maduro’s government was “a statist regime”, he said, and “from there to dictatorship is just one step”.
A day after the Vatican’s intervention, President Maduro told an Argentinian radio station that “the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the country has traditionally been allied to the sectors that held on to powers and privileges, and destroyed the country for almost a century.”
Vatican-sponsored talks that sought to build a peaceful solution to the crisis failed last year. With the political emergency, conditions for Venezuelans have deteriorated significantly.
The country now suffers from the world’s highest rate of inflation, and the capital Caracas has more murders than any other city on earth. Chronic shortages of basic foodstuffs have led to increasing malnutrition and huge queues outside supermarkets.