ROME—As the situation in Venezuela becomes steadily more dire, with people waiting in line for 16 hours to buy bread and pharmacies with nothing but wet wipes in stock, the Catholic hierarchy is urging President Nicolas Maduro to accept that there’s a humanitarian crisis.
According to media reports, people in Venezuelan hospitals are dying for lack of medicine and lack of food. Across the country, citizens are looting supermarkets and mobs are attacking trucks transporting goods out of hunger.
Yet so far Maduro has refused to accept help from international charitable organizations, including the Vatican-sponsored Caritas Internationalis, which through different affiliates has tried to send medicine and food.
“Denying that there’s a crisis and refusing to let the world send medicine and food is not possible,” said Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas.
The prelate believes that Maduro is refusing to accept help in an attempt to hide the “very grave situation of total shortage,” which far from improving, he said, continues to deteriorate.
According to local reports, Urosa also suggested that the Organization of American States should activate the “Inter-American Democratic Charter,” which enables international aid to solve an emergency situation in cases of terrible food and health shortfalls.
In recent days the Venezuelan National Assembly, with a majority opposing the ruling party, had approved a law to open the borders to humanitarian help, but the leader, who succeeded late President Hugo Chavez, overruled it, claiming it usurped presidential functions.
Maduro’s party then threatened to abolish the Venezuelan parliament, something which Urosa defined as “a crazy idea.”
He said: “That’s a desperate thing and I believe it has no feet nor head. It’d be a coup against the popular will, expressed on December 6 when a great majority of the people voted” to constitute the current assembly.
In this sense, he invited the ruling regime, based on the left-wing ideology of chavismo, to “think well” before acting, urging them instead to reach an “understanding” between the different political sectors instead of creating “additional problems.”
According to Archbishop Aldo Giordano, papal representative in Venezuela, Pope Francis is following the situation closely. During a visit on Thursday to the diocese of Maracaibo, he said that the pontiff “wants to contribute in whatever way possible in building peace, reconciliation, solving the problems of the people.”
Giordano also appealed for all the political sectors to “sit down at the same table” to try to address the country’s problems.
Earlier this month, Father Angelo Villasmil, the regional superior of the Dominican order, sent a letter to Dominicans across Latin America and the Caribbean, made available to the press, denouncing a “systematic violation of human rights” in Venezuela.
Villasmil also reported that “when night falls,” cities are taken over by criminal gangs that commit murders, kidnappings and extort bribes to the population.
Yet the situation has gotten so dire in the weeks since Villasmil wrote the letter, that it’s no longer just at night: On Friday, five young men, four of them Catholic seminarians, were stripped down and beaten up by a mob aligned with Maduro.
According to a statement from the Venezuelan Bishops Conference, the four future priests were on their way to class when a violent group intercepted them.
In the statement, Archbishop Baltazar Porras Cardozo, from the diocese of Mérida where the attack took place, said that “these anti-socials act [occur] with total impunity, because here there’s no police or National Guard to stop these events.”
The country has long been in economic decline, which has spiraled out of control despite Venezuela having the world’s largest oil reserves. Widespread shortages, an inflation rate that could surpass 700 percent this year, power blackouts, along with looting and protests, have led citizens to mobilize against Maduro.
In recent days, Venezuelans lined up to add their names to a recall petition that aims to bring the president down, putting an end to the socialist-inspired regime that began with the Chavez revolution 17 years ago.