ROME – After having asked Pope Francis several times to mediate in Venezuela’s internal conflicts, President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday defined a letter sent by Francis’s top aide to local businesses calling for serious dialogue a “compendium of hatred.”
Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, had sent the written message to mark the 77th annual assembly of Fedecámaras, a local federation of chambers of commerce, in which he called for a serious and time-limited negotiation in Venezuela, noting that this “requires political will on the part of those involved.”
His message was read by the auxiliary bishop of Caracas, Bishop Ricardo Barreto.
“I consider it important that civil society is also a protagonist in the solution of the crisis in that beloved country,” Parolin had written. “A solution that will only be given if Venezuelans, and especially those who have some kind of political responsibility, are willing to sit down and negotiate in a serious way on concrete issues to give answers to the real needs of Venezuelans, and for a limited period of time.”
“This requires political will on the part of those involved. Willingness to let the common good prevail over particular interests and the responsible support of civil society and the international community,” added the former Vatican ambassador to Venezuela until 2013, when Pope Francis appointed him Secretary of State.
“If a negotiation such as the one indicated is successful, great generosity and patience will be necessary, since the current crisis will not be resolved immediately, but will still require multiple efforts and sacrifices on the part of all,” Parolin concluded.
In a video of the event, available online, it can be seen that while Barreto read the letter, Maduro’s Vice President Delcy Rodríguez ignored the message from the Holy See, paying more attention to her cell phone.
Rodríguez took the floor after Parolin and sent a strong message to the Venezuelan Church, quoting former President Hugo Chavez: “The priests who want to do politics, take off their cassock and come to do politics. We invite them to dialogue, or to politics. In democracy there are always paths,” she said, but the two can’t cross.
Maduro actually has asked history’s first pope from Latin America to foster dialogue in Venezuela more than once, requesting the Vatican to serve as mediator or an impartial observer. For instance, one such letter was sent after Juan Guaido was widely recognized as the acting president of Venezuela in 2019, after national elections were considered fraudulent both by locals and the international community.
Since the elections of late 2018, several countries including US, Canada, Brazil and several Latin American, don’t acknowledge the successor of Chavez as Venezuela’s president or label him a “dictator.”
“Explain to us, Pietro Parolin, what do you, as chancellor of the Vatican, have to do with Venezuela? And he sends a letter full of venom, of hatred, of intrigues, of cynicism, of attacks,” Maduro said on Wednesday.
For Maduro, this message is “a strange thing” and after asking Parolin for explanations, he doubted that the diplomat had been the one to pen the document.
“I am not aware that he sent it, they say he sent a letter. I just wonder, I think not, that Pietro Parolin has a lot of work in Rome (…) I do not think he wrote it, really,” he said.
The president also dismissed the auxiliary bishop of Caracas and said that he was the only “discordant one” in the assembly of Fedecámaras.
“When everyone is talking about producing and overcoming the economic crisis, an unknown priest…read a letter from Pietro Parolin, a letter that was a compendium of hatred, of venom,” Maduro said in a state television appearance accusing the Vatican’s secretary of state of meddling in Venezuela’s affairs.
Though the Vatican did not immediately respond to request for comments, Parolin’s message is aligned with what Francis told Maduro in a Feb. 7 letter. He’s not in favor of just “any kind of dialogue,” writing that he supports an effort that sees “the different parties in conflict put the common good above any other interest, and work for unity and peace.”
“Unfortunately, every [attempt] was interrupted because what had been agreed in the meetings was not followed by concrete gestures to implement the agreements … And the words seemed to delegitimize the good intentions that had been put in writing,” the pope reportedly wrote.
Maduro has spoken out on more than one occasion against the bishops of Venezuela and Francis’s right-hand man, Parolin.
In the letter, Francis traces the role played by the Holy See and the bishops of Venezuela “as guarantors and at the request of the parties [involved],” in a process that began at the end of 2016, in an attempt to re-emerge from the crisis “in a peaceful and institutional way.”
Francis referred to previous efforts to help find a solution to the Venezuelan crisis, requested by Maduro and the opposition. One of the requirements in 2016 was for the government to acknowledge a humanitarian crisis so that foreign aid could come in, yet Maduro has steadily refused to do so.
Another condition for dialogue was that Maduro call national elections, which he technically did, but won under questioned circumstances as most opposition leaders were in prison.
In his missive, Francis recalled a letter sent by Parolin to Maduro in Dec. 2016 in which the “Holy See clearly indicated what were the conditions for dialogue to be possible.” The pope notes that he still considers those requests to be indispensable for the dialogue to develop, and adds that “others that have since been added as a result of the evolution of the situation.”
Furthermore, in April of this year, following the beatification of Venezuelan doctor José Gregorio Hernández, Francis sent a video asking for the “beloved nation” to come together “with seriousness and sincerity” in favor of democracy, peace and prosperity.
He had originally intended to send Parolin to celebrate the beatification, and this was publicly announced, but sources have confirmed to Crux that that it would have been a diplomatic minefield. Sources within the Secretariat of State also said that the Holy See has grown increasingly critical of Maduro, with one official refusing to comment on the record because “there’s nothing good to say” about the Latin American politician.
In the April video, Francis also acknowledged that, “like my brother bishops” he knows the suffering of the Venezuelan people well, “and I’m aware that your prolonged hardships and anguish have been aggravated by the terrible COVID-19 pandemic that affects us all.”
“Let us seek the path of national unity, and that for the good of Venezuela,” he said.
An estimated 90 percent of the Venezuelan population lives under the poverty line, and close to six million people fled the country in recent years due to violence, lack of economic opportunities and ideological persecution.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma