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Venezuela government seeks 'totalitarian' regime

President Nicolas Maduro (R) talks with Monsignor Diego Padron during a meeting in Caracas, Venezuela, on June 14, 2013
President Nicolas Maduro (R) talks with Monsignor Diego Padron during a meeting in Caracas, Venezuela, on June 14, 2013

The Roman Catholic Church in Venezuela accused the leftist administration of President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday of seeking to impose a "totalitarian government" and blaming it for protests shaking the country.

The scathing assessment from the influential church follows suggestions that the Vatican act as mediator between the government and the opposition after nearly two months of unrest that have left at least 39 people dead.

Monsignor Diego Padron, president of the conference of bishops, denounced what it called the abuse of force, torture of detained protesters and the persecution of opposition mayors and lawmakers.

"The government is mistaken in wanting to resolve the crisis by force. Repression is not the way to go," he said.

The protests were caused, he said, by "the attempt by the ruling party and the authorities of the Republic to install the so-called Plan of the Fatherland, behind which hides the imposition of a totalitarian government."

Padron voiced support for Vatican mediation in a future "sincere dialogue," and the government also has indicated it would be willing to engage in such talks.

People queue up outside a supermarket to buy food in Caracas on April 2, 2014
People queue up outside a supermarket to buy food in Caracas on April 2, 2014

But Caracas Archbishop Jorge Urosa Savino said the Vatican has not received official notice from the government inviting it to take part.

A papal spokesman told AFP Tuesday that the Vatican and Vatican secretary of state Pietro Parolin, a former nuncio in Caracas, were keen to help but announced no plans.

Speaking at a news conference, Padron expressed regret over the deepening polarization in the country, where the vast majority of people identify themselves as Roman Catholics.

The crisis is "extremely serious both for its magnitude... as well as for its duration, violence and the disastrous consequences for our present and our future."

Maduro said that "opposition members have said they want Parolin. And I told them if they want to bring the pope, bring him. Just don't make these people waste their time."

His heavily state-led socialist government has faced a wave of near-daily street protests since February 4, with the public venting anger over soaring crime, high inflation and shortages of essential goods.

Riot policemen take positions during an anti-government protest in Caracas on April 1, 2014
Riot policemen take positions during an anti-government protest in Caracas on April 1, 2014

Maduro, the elected heir to late long-term leader Hugo Chavez, has lashed out at the demonstrations, branding them a "fascist" US-backed plot to overthrow his government.

Caracas is the closest ally of Cuba, the only communist-run nation in the Americas; both are staunch critics of the United States.

Venezuela's president has said he is ready for dialogue but has not been able to get most opposition forces to the table.

One prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, has been in a military jail since February 18 on charges of inciting violence.

Lopez advocates a strategy called "the exit," using the street protests to pressure Maduro to resign. Less radical opponents are pushing Maduro's elected government towards reform.

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