Here is a reflection from Bishop Cástor Oswaldo Azuaje Pérez of Trujillo, Venezuela.
* * *
Venezuela has been front-page news for several months now. Sadly, it continues to be so, on account of the violence unleashed by some of the student demonstrations—which have been supported by a large number of people—and the pitiless response of the authorities. Nevertheless, at the beginning of April there has been some reason for hope in the face of the government crisis, which has been steadily growing worse. This hope is based in the tenuous opening up to dialogue on the part of the conflicting parties, the Venezuelan government and the opposition. The first tentative and nervous meetings have taken place. There is reason to hope that there will be a formal international mediation on the part of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and the Holy See, a formula that has been accepted by the principal parties to the conflict.
On a number of occasions the Venezuelan bishops have spoken about the critical situation of our nation, which is politically divided and polarized. The consequences of a particular manner of exercising authority over these past 15 years have been reflected in an authoritarian and sectarian style, excluding those who do not think like the central government or the ruling party. The National Assembly, without consulting the opposition, imposed a so-called “National Plan” that was clearly ideological and showed no respect for the democratic vision of the constitution, which guarantees a pluralism of ideas and thought.
But the fundamental cause of the process is rooted in the insecurity and criminal violence, the lack of basic foodstuffs and medicines, the unprecedented inflation and shortages, the lack of foreign currency, the attacks on the media—all these things are a reflection of the ruling style of the government. These aspects have been denounced by the Venezuelan bishops in a recent communiqué by the bishop’ conference which reflects the views of all the bishops in the country: “The fundamental cause of the current crisis is the determination by the ruling party and the authorities of the Republic to impose their so-called “National Plan,” behind which is hidden the promotion of a totalitarian system of government, which calls into question its claims to have democratic intent; likewise, there are the restrictions on civic freedoms, in particular those of information and opinion. Then there is the absence of public policies capable of confronting the legal and civil insecurity, the attacks on national production – together these have led to a situation in which our country today has to import every type of product. Likewise, there is the brutal repression of all political dissent, the attempts at “pacification” or appeasement through threats, verbal violence and physical repression.”
The heavy-handed repression by the police and civil authorities, and also that of certain groups of infiltrators, the violent attacks by the colectivos who support the government and even the criminal acts of some in authority, have subverted, even if not entirely, the peaceful nature of the demonstrations, which initially began as protests against social insecurity.
Ever since what happened on February 12, 2014, Venezuela can never be the same, since it was then that a peaceful demonstration ended in violence and death. It cannot be the same because there has been a clear decision by the population as a whole – borne out by the opinion polls – that only a sincere, meaningful and respectful dialogue can achieve a rapprochement and the necessary changes in the direction of the country, so that we can embark on a peaceful and democratic coexistence in which those who govern do so not only for a part of the population, while ignoring the rest. A government of unity and consensus is more salutary than a despotic, sectarian and exclusive government.
I know that the topic of Venezuela is one that prompts many different reactions, including opposing ones. Internationally, the attacks on human rights during these demonstrations have had an impact, as has the growing violence. The Church does not support and will never support violence as a solution to conflict. As Christians and as bishops, we are clear that violence simply breeds further violence.
As the Venezuelan bishops, we have avoided speaking ambiguously about peace, while forgetting the causes of the violence. It is here that there is a need for a prophetic stance on the part of the Church, which must join to its words of peace the denunciation of the evils that lie at the root of the protests, so that these evils can be cleansed and we can embark on a project of authentic peace and democratic coexistence. There are those who defend a posture of inflexibility, both on the one side and on the other. This boils down to following the endless spiral of violence that can only bring us to a situation still more critical, to an ultimate inferno. At times such as this it is better to think that the other person is capable of changing and that forgiveness is possible.
We, the Venezuelan bishops, have invited all the faithful and all men and women of goodwill to take part in a fast on Good Friday so that we can pray for peace and be in solidarity with those most in need. This is our message:“We express our solidarity with the people of the cities who have suffered most from the violence and the effects of the militarization, and particularly with the people of San Cristóbal. We invite all Catholics to offer to God a day of fasting on the coming Good Friday, in solidarity with all those families who mourn their lost loved ones, asking on their behalf for consolation, hope and spiritual strength.” I invite you to unite yourselves with this intention during this time, during which it is a consolation for us to be aware of the support of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
Venezuela needs reconciliation and a fresh encounter on the part of all our citizens, the children of this land. The hatred that imprisons so many hearts needs to look into the merciful eyes of Jesus Christ, nailed to the Cross, who forgives his enemies and reconciles the human race. The land of Simon Bolívar and of Sucre, of Andrés Bello and Simón Rodríguez, of an open and joyful people, has not ceased to be so, despite the many reasons for discouragement, and continues to hope for a time of reconciliation, of peace, of welcome and joy. From this there will emerge a Venezuela that is more mature, more democratic and happier. God will not let us slip from his hands.
Bishop Oswaldo Azuaje heads the Diocese of Trujillo, Venezuela. His letter was obtained and translated by Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)