ROME — With democracy apparently going down the drain in Venezuela, the country’s bishops conference has issued a statement saying that perhaps the time has come for civil disobedience and peaceful protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, who on Wednesday orchestrated a move that many see as nothing short of a coup.
“We cannot remain passive, frightened or hopeless,” the country’s Catholic bishops said Friday, after the Venezuelan Supreme Court decided to eliminate the National Assembly, which has been in the hands of Maduro’s opposition for over a year.
The move provoked widespread international condemnation, with the Organization of American States condemning it as a “final blow to democracy” in Venezuela, defining the Supreme Court ruling as a “self-coup.”
“We have to defend our rights and the rights of others,” the bishops said. “It’s time to very seriously, and responsibly, ask if civil disobedience, peaceful demonstrations, appeals to the national and international public power, and civic protest, are valid and opportune measures.”
Venezuela is currently the 11th largest oil producer in the world, ahead of both Mexico and Colombia in Latin America, and has reserves larger than Saudi Arabia. Despite this source of wealth, it’s long been plagued by an economic, political, and social crisis, fueled by corruption, abuses of power, and triple-digit inflation.
There are chronic shortages of food, medicine, and other basic products such as soap. The lack of flour has even led to shortage of hosts for the Catholic Mass.
As the crisis has worsened, the Catholic Church has become ever more outspoken against the Maduro regime, highlighting the spike in violent crime and black market operations due to the crippling economy.
This has led to backlash from supporters of the regime, who’ve attacked several bishops, priests and interrupted Masses.
On Friday, chief Venezuelan prosecutor Luisa Ortega, an ally of Maduro, became the first high-ranking official to criticize the regime. Speaking on national TV, she expressed “great concern” about a measure which, she said, violated the country’s constitution.
In light of internal and international pressure to overturn the ruling to eliminate the National Assembly, on Saturday the Supreme Court made a U-turn. The announcement of the decision was made through their website.
However, later on Saturday Julio Borges, a local politician who co-founded the opposition party Primero Justicia with Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez (both of whom are today in prison) insisted to both the Venezuelan people and the international community that “nothing has changed, the coup continues, there’s no division of powers.”
“We’re very close to Holy Week,” the bishops said on Friday. “For Catholics, the remembrance of the abuses against Our Lord Jesus Christ is an urgent call to become aware, and to act in a peaceful but forceful way, before the onslaught of power.”
Suppressing the assembly, the prelates said, is to ignore the sovereignty which lies with the people. They also defined the move as “morally unacceptable,” and warned against an escalation of violence, which, given protests which overtook the streets of Caracas between Wednesday and Saturday, seems plausible.
Also on Friday, speaking to the press, Archbishop Diego Padron, president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, said that, “Today, in the Venezuelan Church, there’s no authentic spirituality if we don’t have an attitude of resistance in the face of power.”
While the world looks to Venezuela because of its crisis, Padron said, the Church, above all the laity, have to listen to the “clamor of the people, who demand respect for their dignity and rights.”
The Church, he added, must respond “not only with words but with facts, because a religion that is only vertical, intimate, individualist and spiritualist, which doesn’t question the system and doesn’t commit the faithful in the transformation of society, would be a religion that is opiate of the people.”