Amidst mounting and increasingly violent clashes between protestors and supporters of the government, the Venezuelan bishops have called on all citizens of their country to “repudiate each and every violent statement and to respect the rights of all citizens.” Earlier this month, the bishops’ conference also denounced the attempt by socialist President Nicolas Maduro and Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice to dissolve the National Assembly, the country’s opposition-led Congress. That move has since been rescinded.
The prelates called on the government to urgently address the nation’s grave and growing lack of “food, medicine, freedom, personal and legal safety as well as peace.”
Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras of Mérida, honorary chairman of the bishops’ conference, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the Venezuelan Church is prepared to speak up on behalf of citizens who oppose the policies of the government. He said: “the people face reprisals when they do not agree with the official politics or if they hold a different opinion: threats, fines, prison sentences, deportation.”
He continued: “It is all about pushing through a system in which nothing other than the official opinion counts. When a demonstration is planned, a parallel event is immediately organized, on the same day and at the same time. It is all about showing who is more powerful.”
He added: “The 18 years of the Chávez government and then Maduro are also the result of the deterioration that occurred during the years preceding them. Venezuela was able to grow thanks to oil. The country grew both economically and in its infrastructure. But the accelerated growth also led the governing class to forget the people. After all, this is a gift of nature and not the result of personal hard work. The government did a lot of things, but they forgot the people.”
Cardinal Porras, who serves as the director of Caritas Venezuela, thanks the international community for the support it has provided. However, inside the country, he comes up “against a wall, because it is very difficult to ensure that the aid” reaches those who need it most. Because we come up against obstacles.” The media plays an equally important role in the internal conflict. The prelate explained: “If I say, ‘[a particular] medicine is not available here,’ a photograph of the medicine immediately appears. It is then said: ‘that is not true, look at this.’ And this happens with everything, with food, with domestic security, etc.”
When you talk about solutions, the question arises whether the Venezuelan people are not sick of dialogue yet. “Talking about the dialogue in Venezuela today is almost an insult because experiences have been terrible. Dialogue was merely used as a photo opportunity. The actual problems were not talked about, they have not been solved. In order for this to be possible, the other person has to accept you as a discussion partner.” This is why the archbishop insists that a second side is indispensable for achieving a real dialogue. “Holding to agreements. A real offer was made to keep agreements, but these were never kept.
The government has so far refused to engage in any kind of genuine dialogue with the opposition or with Church leadership, said the cardinal, who called on the international community “to try to get real and timely information so as not to be taken in by lies.” He also asked for prayers and support from the Church around the world, saying: “In Venezuela, we need prayer as a source of inner strength that prevents us from being robbed of hope and joy. Difficulties are there to be overcome and not to make us cry.”
The Venezuelan bishops’ conference has called for day of prayer on May 21, 2017, “to end violence and state oppression as well as to search for ways of communication and reconciliation.”