Venezuela's crisis demands a timetable for elections, bishops exhort

Venezuela flag Credit Alex Lanz via Flickr CC BY NC SA 20 with filter CNA 6 16 15 The flag of Venezuela. | Alex Lanz via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) with filter.

The bishops of Venezuela have urged that elections take place in the country in a timely manner, in light of the crisis of hyperinflation and chronic shortages of goods facing their nation.

"The country requires a plan for elections, just as was agreed upon during the round-table discussions," the Venezuelan bishops' conference said in a Jan. 13 pastoral exhortation "Jesus Christ, the Light and the Way for Venezuela."

They urged the government to comply with an Oct. 30 agreement so that dialogue with the opposition, which controls the legislature, can continue and thus pull Venezuela out of its crisis.

The country has been ruled by a socialist government since 1999, and particularly in recent yers has been marred by violence and social and economic upheaval; the International Monetary Fund expects an inflation rate of 1,600 percent in 2017.

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.

"A great darkness covers our country," the bishops wrote. "We are going through dramatic situations: the serious shortage of medicine and food. Never before had we seen our brothers rummaging through garbage in search of food!"

Their pastoral letter, written at the conclusion of the bishops' plenary assembly, criticized the social and political crisis, aggravated by the repression and arrest of opposition leaders, the attempt by the regime to curtail the powers of the legislature, and the obstruction of the recall referendum by the National Electoral Council which prevented Venezuelans from deciding on the rule of President Nicolás Maduro, creating "disillusionment and frustration among the citizenry."

"Only in totalitarian regimes is the autonomy of public authorities ignored and free expression by the citizenry thwarted," the bishops stated.

As on other occasions, the bishops reiterated that the fundamental cause of the crisis "is the great effort the government to impose a totalitarian system … even though the Marxist socialist system has failed in all the countries in where it has been established, leaving in its wake suffering and poverty."

In that regard, they lamented the disappointing outcome of the dialogue between the regime and the opposition, in which the Holy See acted as a facilitator, mainly because of the "government's failure to comply with the agreements that had been reached during the Oct. 30, 2016 meeting … We are extremely grateful for the service provided by Pope Francis and we lament that his contribution towards peace in Venezuela was misinterpreted."

In that regard, they reiterated that "conditions for continuing the dialogue were indicated by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in his Dec.1, 2016 letter."

These conditions are "alleviating the grave crisis in the supply of food and medicine the population is suffering," that the parties "come to an agreement on the timetable for elections which will allow Venezuelans to decide on their future without delay," that "necessary measures are taken to restore to the National Assembly as soon as possible its role provided for in the Constitution," and " implement the legal procedures to hasten the process of releasing the detainees."

In their exhortation, the bishops reminded Christians that their mission is, "in whatever the circumstances, to proclaim the God of life and turn the culture of death into a culture of life."

"How can we be those who bring light and hope to a panorama of darkness and death?" they asked.

In that regard, they said, "it is necessary to make courageous gestures and innovative initiatives which provide the motivation to hope against all hope to build a free, just and fraternal coexistence; this is a task that belongs to everyone, every one according to their position … The call is to be protagonists of the present and future of our beloved country."

They likewise urged the government to accept international aid "to help address the shortages experienced by so many men, women and children who are at risk" and they reiterated the Church's offer to make available its organizational infrastructure.

"The people are clamoring for a profound change in the political direction of the country that would be the result of the decision of the sovereign people: either the 21st century socialism which is absent from the constitution, or the democratic system established in the constitution. The country requires a plan for elections, just as agreed upon in the Roundtable Discussions," they said.

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The bishops concluded their document asking Our Lady of Coromoto to intercede for Venezuela and for God to "enlighten our leaders so they reach as soon as possible the agreements necessary to overcome the crisis. We implore his blessing on all the inhabitants of the country."

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