Venezuela’s Catholic calls gov­ern­ment ‘dic­ta­tor­ship’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Venezuela’s Catholic Church raised pres­sure on the left­ist gov­ern­ment Fri­day in a deadly po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, warn­ing that its drive for con­sti­tu­tional re­forms is turn­ing the coun­try into a “mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship.” The plan “will be im­posed by force and its re­sult will be that con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus will be given to a mil­i­tary, so­cial­ist, Marx­ist and com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship,” the head of the Venezue­lan Epis­co­pal Con­fer­ence, Diego Padron, told a news con­fer­ence.

An in­flu­en­tial voice in Venezuela, the church has long had strained re­la­tions with Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro, who is un­der mount­ing op­po­si­tion and in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to hold early elec­tions. The cen­ter­right op­po­si­tion ac­cuses Maduro of ma­neu­ver­ing to cling to power against its de­mands for a vote on re­mov­ing him. It blames him for an eco­nomic cri­sis that has caused short­ages of food and medicine. He says the cri­sis is a US-backed con­spir­acy.

Pope’s con­cern

Catholic lead­ers tried last year to me­di­ate ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion. The talks col­lapsed with the sides ac­cus­ing each other of bad faith. Pope Fran­cis called this month for “an end to vi­o­lence and a peace­ful and demo­cratic so­lu­tion to the cri­sis.” At least 91 peo­ple have died over the past three months in clashes with po­lice dur­ing anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions, prose­cu­tors say. On Thurs­day, po­lice chased protesters into a shop­ping mall and fired tear gas, leav­ing dozens in­jured. The pre­vi­ous day, a pro­gov­ern­ment mob wield­ing clubs burst into the grounds of the Na­tional Assem­bly leg­is­la­ture and beat law­mak­ers, leav­ing sev­eral bleed­ing. Maduro has mean­while in­fu­ri­ated his op­po­nents by launch­ing a plan to form an assem­bly tasked with rewrit­ing the con­sti­tu­tion.

Op­po­nents say he will pack this “con­stituent assem­bly” with al­lies in a bid to cling to power. Vot­ing for mem­bers of the assem­bly is sched­uled for July 30. The op­po­si­tion MUD coali­tion plans to hold its own pop­u­lar vote against the plan on July 16. Padron said the church would make some of its premises avail­able to carry out that vote. Maduro retains the pub­lic back­ing of the mil­i­tary high com­mand-a key fac­tor in keep­ing him in power, ac­cord­ing to an­a­lysts. But the pres­i­dent last month said he was re­plac­ing four se­nior com­man­ders of the armed forces.

Catholic coun­try

The high­est of­fi­cial to defy Maduro is chief pros­e­cu­tor Luisa Ortega. She has launched le­gal chal­lenges against the con­sti­tu­tional plan but the au­thor­i­ties re­sponded by charg­ing her with mis­con­duct. The Supreme Court, which the op­po­si­tion says is stacked with Maduro’s al­lies, is due to rule in the com­ing days whether to sus­pend Ortega from of­fice and put her on trial. A study by pri­vate polling firm Dat­anal­y­sis in­di­cated that 80 per­cent of Venezue­lans dis­ap­proved of Maduro’s lead­er­ship and 70 per­cent op­posed his con­sti­tu­tional re­form plan.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data by polling group Lati­no­barometro, 79 per­cent of Venezue­lans de­scribed them­selves as Ro­man Catholic in 2013. “There is no longer a con­flict be­tween left and right” in Venezuela, Padron said. “There is a strug­gle be­tween a gov­ern­ment that has turned into a dic­ta­tor­ship and a whole peo­ple call­ing for lib­erty.”

—AFP

CARACAS: Bo­li­var­ian Na­tional Guard mem­bers shoot rub­ber bul­lets at Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion demon­stra­tors block­ing the av­enue, dur­ing a protest against Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro, in Caracas.

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