Venezuela’s authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday that he respects the “ethic” and “spirit” of Pope Francis, and asked for his help to fend off a possible military invasion from the United States.
”May the pope help us prevent Trump from sending troops to invade Venezuela,” Maduro said in a news conference addressed “to the world.”
”I ask for the pope’s help against the military threat from the United States. [I ask] that you don’t abandon me, that you don’t abandon us,” he insisted.
Maduro also said that he trusts Francis will continue to help in the path of “dialogue, peace, understanding, and defense of Venezuela’s sovereignty.”
The Venezuelan leader then asked the Argentine-born pope to help “establish a respectful dialogue” between political rivals in Venezuela. Francis, through the Vatican’s diplomatic service, has tried to accomplish this, advocating for dialogue on several occasions.
However, Rome’s preconditions for dialogue, aligned to that of the Venezuelan bishop’s conference, include the freeing of political prisoners, holding national elections, and acknowledging the country’s humanitarian crisis, which would allow for the arrival of foreign aid.
Under Maduro’s presidency, Venezuela, owner of some of the world’s largest oil reserves, has slipped into a deep economic crisis, and protesters have taken to the streets to challenge the regime. Over 130 people have been killed since April in clashes with security forces and paramilitary groups armed by the government.
Maduro has blamed the internal unrest on an international conspiracy led by the U.S. government, a narrative President Donald Trump helped fuel with his recent statement that a “military option” is on the table when it comes to Venezuela.
The Venezuelan president’s attitude towards the pope, however, does not extend to his right-hand man, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, nor to the Venezuelan bishops.
“I cry for the true Christian spirit of the pope and believe in him,” Maduro said. “Another thing is the Vatican and the Vatican’s Secretary of State. I will not talk about them. Another thing is the [Venezuelan] Bishops’ Conference, I will not talk about them. May the people, may Catholics judge them.”
The bishops have long been critical of Maduro, particularly voicing their concerns against the Constituent Assembly set up to re-write the constitution and also govern by decree. Earlier this year, the leadership of the bishops’ conference traveled to Rome to meet with Francis, and according to them, they have the pope’s full support.
Likewise, the Venezuelan crisis has been a recurring issue for Parolin, who’s spoken about it on countless occasions, the latest being his August 21-24 visit to Russia, where he’s scheduled to meet President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, during a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister, Parolin reiterated his message of peace and reconciliation in Venezuela.
“I think that Russia can help because it traditionally has ties with Venezuela. I think it can help in facilitating negotiation and talks that are the only road that the Holy See can see in order to exit this crisis,” Parolin said afterwards, answering questions by reporters.
The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the Russian federation has “supported the initiative of the Holy See from the very beginning,” and stressed the importance that all external players encourage opposing sides in Venezuela “to achieve national consensus, (and) develop compromises that will allow their country to develop peacefully taking into account the interests of all sectors of society and political forces.
“External players who set up the opposition for a tough confrontation with the authorities, including through forceful methods, undermine the efforts of those who are genuinely interested in restoring peace, tranquility and stability in Venezuela,” he added.
Caracas and Moscow have strong diplomatic and financial ties. During Tuesday’s press conference, Maduro praised his Russian peer, calling him a “man of peace,” and describing him as the world’s most popular leader. He also said that he’s expecting a state visit from Vladimir Putin soon.