Pope Francis talks nationwide crisis in meeting with Venezuela's Maduro

The flag of Venezuela Credit Anyul Rivas via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA The flag of Venezuela. | Anyul Rivas via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

On Monday Pope Francis met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, head of the country's socialist regime, at the Vatican to discuss the dire political, social and economic situation of Venezuela and its citizens.

"The meeting took place within the framework of the worrisome political, social and economic situation that the country is going through – a situation that is having serious repercussions in the daily lives of the entire population," an Oct. 24 communique from the Vatican read.

Francis, who didn't have any public commitments earlier in the day, met with Maduro privately Oct. 24 in the evening.

According to the Vatican communique, the Pope, "who has at heart the welfare of all Venezuelans," wanted to affirm his continued contribution to Venezuela's "institutionality and everything that will help to resolve the outstanding issues and build trust between the various parties."

Nicolas Maduro took over for former Venezuelan socialist president Hugo Chavez when the latter died from cancer in 2013.

In the stormy aftermath of the takeover, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social and economic upheaval. Poor economic policies, including strict price controls, coupled with high inflation rates, have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers and medicines.

Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

The Venezuelan government is known to be among the most corrupt in Latin America, and violent crime in the country has spiked since Maduro took office.

Demonstrations broke out in the country in January 2014 after Monica Spear, a former Miss Venezuela, was murdered along with her ex-husband on a highway near Caracas when their car broke down.

Protests intensified after the attempted rape of a student shortly after Spear's death, and since then Maduro's government has jailed many peaceful protestors and political opponents. The regime is known to have committed gross abuses, including violence, against those who don't share their political ideologies.

Maduro was scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican last year, but canceled his June 7, 2015, visit at the last minute due to a doctor's note from the president saying he was forbidden to board a plane due to a cold and severe ear infection.

The situation in Venezuela has been steadily deteriorated, even since last year.

The Pope's meeting with Maduro took place in the backdrop of a Sept. 1 demonstration, called the "Taking of Caracas," in the Venezuelan capital, bringing together as many as 1 million citizens who support a referendum to recall President Nicolás Maduro.

Both opponents and sympathizers of Maduro's government took to the streets. However, the government's critics vastly outnumbered government supporters, according to organizers.

Archbishop Diego Padrón Sánchez of Cumaná, president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, said in a statement that the country's government is suffering from a "chronic" hearing disorder in face of the suffering of the people.

"What the people have done, both the opposition and government supporters, was a free, democratic, constitutional and peaceful expression of the awareness of their civil rights," he said, charging that the government "carried out violence with the various persecutions conducted against different opposition leaders."

"The government's hearing disorder has become chronic in the face of the people's suffering, shortages, food shortages, the high cost of living and lack of public safety," he complained.

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According to the communique on the Pope's meeting with Maduro, Francis invited the president "to undertake with courage the path of sincere and constructive dialogue."

He also invited the Venezuelan dictator to make it a priority "to alleviate the suffering of the people – first of all, those who are poor – and to promote a climate of renewed social cohesion which would offer a vision forward with hope for the future of the nation."

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