ROME— Facing a socio-political and economic crisis in Venezuela, including a triple-digit inflation rate, shortages of basic goods, and a power crisis despite having the world’s largest oil reserves, Pope Francis has sent a letter to President Nicolas Maduro urging him to work to solve the country’s problems.
The information was confirmed by a Vatican spokesman to the Italian blog IlSismografo.it on Saturday.
Though Father Federico Lombardi didn’t reveal the content of the letter, he said that “the pope follows the situation with a lot of attention and participation.”
Francis, history’s first pope from Latin America, has spoken about Venezuela on various occasions, including on March 27 during his Easter Urbi et Orbi blessing (to the city and to the world).
On that occasion, Francis said: “May the paschal message (of the Risen Christ) be felt ever more powerfully by the beloved people of Venezuela in the difficult conditions which they are experiencing, and by those responsible for the country’s future, that everyone may work for the common good, seeking spaces of dialogue and cooperation with all.”
The pope and Maduro met only once, in 2013. The president was supposed to travel to Rome early in 2015, but at the last minute cancelled the trip.
Lombardi’s comments came three days after the bishops’ conference of Venezuela released a statement in which they define the country’s situation as “very grave.”
In their April 27 statement, the Venezuelan bishops warned about the “upsurge in murderous and inhuman crime,” which has turned its capital, Caracas, into the most dangerous city in the world outside active warzones: Last year, 8,946 people were murdered, meaning 120 people for every 100,000 inhabitants.
Detroit, the most dangerous city in the United States, had a murder rate of 43.5 people killed for every 100,000.
The bishops also denounced that never before the country suffered from such an “extreme lack of goods and basic food and health products.”
Last month, Archbishop Roberto Lückert, from the diocese of Coro, had to turn to Twitter to ask for help to get his personal medicines, since there was a shortage in his city.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro succeeded Hugo Chavez after his death in 2013, after 14 years in power. Since then, the economy of Venezuela has deteriorated, with citizens joining long lines to buy basic products such as toilet paper. In many cities, even bread is being rationed.
In their letter, the country’s prelates also decried “the unreliable rationing of electricity and water, and deep corruption in all levels of the government and society.”
On Sunday, at 2:30 am local time, the oil-dependent Venezuela shifted its time ahead by 30 minutes, a move part of a package of measures the embattled Maduro is pursuing to cope with a crippling electricity shortage.
Other measures include four-hour daily blackouts across most of the country, reduction of the public-sector workweek to two days, and the closing of schools on Fridays.
“Casting the situation in terms of an ideology and pragmatism in order to manipulate it are exacerbating it,” the bishops warned.
Maduro has often blamed the crisis on the opposition and what he calls “Yankee imperialism.”
Regarding the lack of first-need products, the bishops asked the government to authorize private institutions, such as the Catholic charity Caritas, to bring food and medicine into the country with the help of international aid groups, to be distributed through privately-run networks, as a way to guarantee they reach those most in need.
Not pulling any punches, the bishops also touched on an amnesty bill which has been approved by the National Assembly, Venezuela’s unicameral legislature, which is led by the opposition. The bill demands the freedom of dozens of jailed dissidents.
“The amnesty law is a national and international outcry, and a contribution to easing social tensions,” the bishops said. “To ignore the National Assembly is to ignore and trample on the will of the majority of the people.”
Lückert has also used to Twitter to support both the amnesty law and an effort to depose Maduro.
The opposition is currently pushing to drive Maduro from office. The claim to have gathered more than 10 times the roughly 200,000 signatures needed to begin organizing a referendum to oust him.