ROSARIO, Argentina – Venezuela’s bishops say they can’t stand by while the government of President Nicolas Maduro strengthens its “dictatorial line” and the country’s people suffer hunger and unemployment, feeling “more unprotected” every day.

“We live immersed in general chaos at all levels of social and personal life,” the bishops wrote in a statement at the end of their general assembly, held on-line to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

They denounced that public services are “often non-existent;” that political action is “divorced from the common good;” that insecurity and helplessness continue to grow; that family life is broken by the fact that most cannot meet basic needs; that an inflationary and dollarized economy hurts “almost the entire population;” and that education is paralyzed.

The bishops wrote that the COVID-19 pandemic is “expanding exponentially,” and that it’s been a paralyzing element of a substantial part of ordinary activities. It highlights, they said, “the crisis already present, notably aggravated by the weakness of the health system, the sad situation experienced by emigrants who return to the country without resources or a safe life expectancy, as well as the shortage of gasoline.”

“Each day, the people feel more unprotected, due to … the lack of institutions that give fair answers to human rights violations,” they argue.

According to the bishops, the people of Venezuela want to live in a democracy, and for this to be possible, it’s necessary to hold elections that are impartial.

“The regime, more concerned about staying in power that in the welfare of the people, has called for parliamentary elections,” they said, but it’s also persecuting leaders of the opposition and trying to “buy consciences.” As the upcoming elections “draw on illegitimacy,” the bishops said, they will cause abstention and a lack of confidence.

The bishops denounced as “immoral” any maneuver that hinders the social and political solution of “real problems” as well as the “cynicism” of some politicians who’ve lend themselves to “to this game, with which the regime is consolidated as a totalitarian government.”

“We demand once again genuinely free and democratic elections to constitute a new government of change and national inclusion that allows us to build the country that we all want,” the bishops write. “We see with great concern how the armed forces, far from observing their duty of defending the people, have chosen to remain on the side of political bias.”

“We cannot stand idly by,” they wrote. “The government, parties, [and] civil society in its various forms must have proposals that put the life and quality of the entire population [first], starting with the most vulnerable. We must arrange for aid offered by international organizations to arrive with the consent and endorsement of all the parties: Government, opposition, civil society.”

As they’ve done before, the bishops urged the government to allow for foreign aid to arrive in Venezuela, something Pope Francis has said is a necessary step if the Vatican is to help mediate the situation in the Latin American country.

“The quality of life, the survival of people, is above any other consideration,” they wrote. “This is a priority because our people are dying and is getting more desperate every day.”

Towards the end of their four-page statement, the bishops “exhort in a special way” politicians who profess to be Catholic to be guided by the social doctrine of the Church to work towards a radical change of the country’s situation, guided by service to the people and the common good rather than personal interests.

They endorsed requests by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in 2016: “The urgent implementation of measures aimed at alleviating the serious food and medicine supply crisis; an electoral calendar that allows Venezuelans to decide without delay their future; the restitution of the role provided by the constitution, as soon as possible, of the National Assembly; and the application of legal instruments to speed up the process of release of [political] detainees.”

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