Venezuelan Prelates: "Referendum Is a Right, Not a Gift"

CARACAS, Venezuela, JULY 13, 2004 ( Participation in the Aug. 15 recall referendum against President Hugo Chávez «is a right, not a gift,» and an «inescapable duty of conscience and responsibility,» say Venezuela’s bishops.

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The bishops also warn about the risk of a «violent outcome» if there is coercion or fraud in the popular consultation, as expressed in a pastoral document at the conclusion of the episcopate’s plenary assembly that ended Monday.

The document will be read next Sunday during all the Masses celebrated in churches and places of worship in the country.

Chávez has been widely blamed for leading the country into its worst economic, political and social crisis in 50 years.

If Chávez is recalled in the Aug. 15 referendum, the Venezuelan Constitution calls for the immediate holding of presidential elections.

For this to take place, it is necessary that the votes number the same or more than the 3.7 million that the electorate cast for Chávez in the 2000 elections.

‘Far from being a «war to make the opponent disappear,» the recall referendum against Chávez’s is «an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate the government’s performance, create the possibility of channeling coexistence peacefully, and of respecting and integrating differences,» the Venezuelan episcopate said.

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