THE Roman Catholic bishops of Venezuela have called for an end to the repression and violence unfolding across the country, which is in political turmoil.
Dozens of people were killed when peaceful marches against the swearing-in of the President, Nicolás Maduro, turned violent this week.
The Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops’ Conference said in a communiqué released on Tuesday: “Since January 22, the repression and violence have been escalated by State security forces and armed bands against people civically protesting.
“We deeply deplore so much death, pain, and suffering of our people. The toll of injured, dead, arbitrarily detained, tortured, and persecuted throughout the land violates the dignity and human rights of the citizens. It is a clamour that cries out: ‘Stop the repression.’”
The commission had backed the initially peaceful marches led by the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, which began last week, the Catholic News Agency reported. At one of the marches, in Caracas, Mr Guaido declared himself interim president. He has garnered public support and is backed by the United States, which has criticised human-rights abuses in Venezuela and mooted plans to send military assistance to Mr Guaidó.
In a video message posted on his Facebook account, on Wednesday, Mr Maduro said: “If the United States intends to intervene here, they will have a Vietnam worse than what they can imagine. Let’s not allow violence.”
The marches were organised after Mr Maduro was sworn into his second six-year term earlier this month, after disputed elections last year. He has the backing of the Venezuelan army, and of President Putin. Russia has economic ties to Venezuela, including oil.
Mr Maduro first came to power after the death of his mentor, the former Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez, who had bypassed parliament with a new constitution in 1999, and drove the country into an economic depression between 2013 and 2017 amid falling oil prices, shortages of basic goods, and the spread of corruption.
The RC Archbishop of Maracaibo, Monsignor José Luis Azuaje, has described Mr Maduro’s second term as “illegitimate and morally unacceptable”, and called for democratic change and an end to the increasing violence.
At least 26 people have died and hundreds more arbitrarily detained in protests across the country, it has been reported. On Monday, in the city of Maturin, the Venezuelan Army reportedly besieged the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in which at least 700 opposition supporters were trapped for several hours.
Pope Francis was in Panama last week for World Youth Day. He told journalists on the return flight, on Monday, reported by the Catholic News Agency, that he supported “all of the Venezuelan people — it is a people that is suffering — including those who are one side and the other”. He said, however, that it would be “pastoral imprudence” for the Pope to take sides.
“I suffer for what is happening in Venezuela right now. And for this I desire that they come to an agreement. I don’t know [whether] even saying to come to an agreement is OK. A just and peaceful solution. What is it that scares me? The shedding of blood. And there I also ask greatness to help, to those who can help and resolve the problem. The problem of violence terrifies me.”
The UN High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet Jeria, expressed concern this week that the situation in Venezuela “may rapidly spiral out of control with catastrophic consequences”.
The UN Under Secretary-General of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, told an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Saturday: “The population is affected in a systemic way.
“Nearly all 30 million Venezuelans are affected by hyperinflation and a collapse of real salaries; shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies; deterioration of health and education services; deterioration of basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, transport and urban services.”
Three million people have fled the country since 2014. In a statement on Monday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and UN migration agency (IOM) condemned the persecution in of Venezuelans in neighbouring countries.
“Although isolated and unrepresentative, these acts of hatred, intolerance and xenophobia are extremely worrying. Racism, misogyny and xenophobia have no place in our countries and must be firmly condemned.”