Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo said Monday that conditions in Venezuela continue to deteriorate under the country's socialist government.

"We are living in an exceptional and unheard-of situation, which is not the result of war, nor of any armed conflict, or any natural catastrophe, and yet which is having similar consequences. The political regime that is running Venezuela has broken the country and has generated an atmosphere of social conflict that is steadily growing worse," Cardinal Porras, Archbishop of Mérida and Apostolic Administrator of Caracas, told the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need July 8.

Under the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment, and hyperinflation. More than 4 million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.

"People are leaving on account of their economic situation and because of their political ideas, while others are doing so on account of the harassment and repression in the country, whose economic system is now practically ruined," the cardinal reflected.

"There is absolutely no security under the law. At the same time there is no work and no proper healthcare, there is no possibility for people of bringing home even the minimum to support their family."

Earlier this year, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, head of the opposition-controlled legislature the National Assembly, declared himself interim president of Venezuela, saying Maduro's victory in a contested 2018 election was invalid. Guaidó has been recognized by a number of Western governments, but has been largely unable to secure the support of Venezuela's military.

The National Assembly has been superseded by the pro-government Constituent Assembly, formed in 2017 after contested elections.

Porras said that negotiations held in Oslo between the government and the opposition are "an opportunity to discover if there is any will to restore democracy, which has for now been totally sidelined in this country."

He reflected that "over the past 20 years, when the government found itself in difficulties, it frequently called for dialogue. But these appeals were only made in order to 'paper over the cracks', because the government had no real desire to negotiate sincerely, or to concede anything at all. Given this situation, a large proportion of the population have lost all trust and belief in the idea of dialogue."

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Last week, a UN report said the government has committed a variety of human rights abuses, including a high number of extrajudicial killings.

The cardinal said: "We are deeply concerned at the fact that in the last year the number of people who have been arrested, tortured, murdered or 'disappeared' has been growing and that those involved in these actions include not only high-ranking members of the military, but also some members of the pro-government popular classes."

He charged that Maduro's government can only control the Venezuelan people "through fear, and by deliberately provoking fuel, food and energy shortages."

Both "public and private institutions have been destroyed," Porras said, "and the only institution remaining is the Church."

"This is thanks to our closeness to the people and to our presence at every level of society," he stated, adding that the Church "has had the courage to point out the defects of this regime."

As a result of this, Catholic schools are restricted, and its institutions face "verbal threats and harassment."

"The parishes are attacked by the government, by the communal councils and the so-called 'colectivos', pro-government popular groups. For example, in Caracas, the members of these groups stand at the church doors and listen to what the priest says in his homilies, and if they don't like it, then the threats begin," the cardinal stated.

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Porras said that the Church in Venezuela is "profoundly grateful to ACN, not only for your material support, but for the spiritual closeness expressed by you, above all through prayer."