Venezuelan Cardinal Calls for Reconciliation, and Truth About Killings

Wants Probe into Deaths at Anti-Chávez Protest

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CARACAS, Venezuela, APRIL 23, 2002 ( Cardinal Ignacio A. Velasco of Caracas called for national reconciliation following the bloody events leading up to the recent coup and countercoup.

Alluding to the coup d´etat that ousted President Hector Chávez from power for 48 hours, the archbishop in a pastoral exhortation said: «It has been repeated many times in these days that we must all learn a lesson from the events we have experienced.»

«And if it is true that this must be applied to a multiplicity of situations and actors, I sincerely believe that the lesson must be, above all, that of unity and reconciliation,» he added, with reference to the military action that ousted Chávez on April 12.

«What is most important at this time is to walk on the path of peace and justice. We must support the quest for this path,» the archbishop said.

«The first step on this path is solidarity with the suffering and sorrow of the relatives of those who lost their lives, expressing words of consolation to them and calling for the clarification of particular situations that led to these events, in order to be able to establish a reign of justice,» he said.

In an interview Saturday with the newspaper El Nacional, Bishop Baltazar Porras praised Chávez´s conciliatory tone when he returned to the presidency. But the bishop warned that «to ask for forgiveness is an important step, but it is not enough. There must be other things.»

Bishop Porras, who was virulently criticized by Chávez in past months, was called by the ousted president to accompany him during the institutional crisis.

The prelate recalled that the bishops had appealed for reconciliation in this country of 23 million inhabitants, which is rich in oil but high in levels of poverty and unemployment.

«The whole Venezuelan society must be and continue to be active,» Bishop Porras said. «Democracy is built in the exercise of liberties, respect, solidarity.»

Civil and Church sources appealed for the speedy establishment of a commission to probe the murders that occurred during the April 11 protest march against Chávez. The crowd was fired upon, resulting in 15 deaths and hundreds wounded.

«We should now forget what happened, nor silence our conscience,» Cardinal Velasco said in his exhortation. «We must share the sorrow and at the same time shed light on the death of these persons.»

«Naturally,» he added, «all this must be realized in a climate that excludes any spirit of vengeance or retaliation, and is in keeping with the laws and the Constitution.»

The cardinal concluded by appealing for prayers from the Christian communities for the following intentions: «peace and reconciliation among all the inhabitants of our homeland; … the happy outcome of the different initiatives for dialogue and agreement among the different sectors; … the victims of the events of these days; [and] those who lost their property and jobs.»

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