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Political crisis in Venezuela intensifies

16 June 2017


Grief: a vigil is held in Caracas last week, in memory of Neomar Lander, a 17-year-old who died during clashes with security forces the previous day

Grief: a vigil is held in Caracas last week, in memory of Neomar Lander, a 17-year-old who died during clashes with security forces the previous day

THE President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, has written to Pope Francis, asking for his help to end the violence burgeoning in the country.

Protesters in Venezuela set fire to the Supreme Court in Caracas on Monday, after it rejected a bid to stop the President rewriting the country’s constitution. The attack on the building comes amid a growing crisis in the country, where daily protests have been held for the past 12 weeks.

President Maduro’s letter, as published by the Venezuelan News Agency, reads: “In your role as Vicar of Christ, I have full certainty that your active guidance can open a new stance of national dialogue.”

Delivered to the Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela on Tuesday, it refers to “actions of vandalism” by the “forces of darkness” that “yearn for a military intervention by the United States”.

A day later, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, issued a letter to six former heads of state in Latin America, calling for a  “serious and sincere negotiation between the parties, based on very clear conditions, beginning with the celebration of constitutionally scheduled elections”.

The protesters accuse the govern­ment of corruption, and are de­­mand­ing fresh elections. The coun­try is facing a serious food shortage and double-digit inflation.

The country’s Central Bank had not published inflation figures for more than a year, but in April it told the International Monetary Fund that the rate of inflation was 274 per cent. Independent econo­mists say that the actual rate is between 453 and 524 per cent; the country’s opposition-led congress claims that it has reached 800 per cent.

Last week, a delegation from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Vene­­zuela travelled to the Vatican to brief Pope Francis on the crisis.

“He told us that he’s very close to us, and very well-informed about the situation of Venezuela, and very close to the suffering of the people,” the Archbishop of Cumaná, the Most Revd Diego Padrón, told reporters after the meeting.

“He also told us that we have his full trust, and we have a great com­munion with him and his Magister­ium; so there’s no distance between him and the conference.”

On the eve of the meeting, the Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino. told Vatican Radio that the “repression” of the government had been “increasingly cruel”. 

The bishops gave the Pope a list of 70 mostly young people who had been killed by government forces during peaceful protests. The Eco­nomist reports that they told Pope Francis that the country’s dispute was not between those on the political left or right, but “a fight between a government which has turned into a dictatorship, an inward-looking [regime] which serves only its own interests, and an entire people which is crying out for freedom and desperately seeking, at the risk of its youngest lives, bread, medicine, security, work and fair elections.”

The wider Latin American Bishops’ Conference has called for food aid for the country. Aid agencies attempting to take medical supplies to the country have been thwarted by government bans that have added items such as gloves and medicines to a list of banned items that includes firearms, gas masks, and bullet-proof vests, Fox News reports.

The RC international aid agency Caritas said that its attempts to take food and medicine into Venezuela had been blocked by the govern­ment three times in the past month, as requests for the necessary paper­work were denied.

The director of Caritas Venez­uela, Janeth Márquez, told the Catholic News Agency: “We are urgently in need of international co-operation. People are suffering because they don’t have medicines, and their quality of life is now diminished.”

The UK Government is advising against all but essential travel to parts of the country, and against all travel to some areas. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is warn­ing British people in the country to “remain vigilant and informed”. It advises them to “avoid protests and demonstrations”.

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