The already heated tensions between Chavismo and the Catholic Church shot up on Monday, January 12. The Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV) released adocument in which they condemned the government of Nicolás Maduro for taking the country down “a wrong path” and “imposing a socialist Marxist or communist political-economic system.”
“The current system is totalitarian and centralized, it puts under the control of the state all aspects of life, as well as public and private institutions. It also attacks the liberties and rights of individuals and associations, and has led to oppression and ruin in all countries where it has been attempted,” says the document, which has already been met with reactions from the Maduro administration.
The president is on tour of Asia and the Middle East, but the regime’s right-hand man and president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, has hit back. During a press conference on Tuesday, he invited the Church “to set up a political party, because they sound more like politicians than Catholics.”
The Catholic bishops have refrained from adding more fuel to the fire, but they have insisted on their official statement. It points out that the national government “pays no attention to suggestions besides its own” and that a totalitarian tendency can be observed in “a communication hegemony that blocks and limits independent media, in its attempt to control the unions, in the legal persecution of political dissidents, in the creation of multiple laws, regulations, and procedures that obstruct the private sector, even those nonprofit organizations that provide social relief.”
It equally criticizes the Maduro administration for the recent appointments of PSUV sympathizers on the National Electoral Council, Supreme Court, Comptroller General, and Ombudsman, “carried out with partisan interests that do not reflect the plurality of political forces in the country… Again we affirm: Marxist socialism is a wrong path, and should not be established in Venezuela.”
The document calls for openness between political actors and for incumbent officials to assume their responsibility “to avoid the crisis getting worse.” Opposition leaders, it reads, should “present a common project united beyond favoritism.”
According to the CEV, the country’s population currently “suffer from generalized distress due to the economic crisis, since they’ve been forced to face unseen hardships to obtain basic goods” and could slide into poverty.
The violence that comes with the economic problems “reveals an even deeper malaise: moral crisis — values, attitudes, inclinations, and behaviors that need to be corrected. We need to overcome the desire for easy money and corruption, political arrogance, high-handedness and lust for power, egoism, laziness, hatred, and violence. We need to rescue the principles of legality, legitimacy, and morality that make up the basis of social life.”
The Church’s Rising Tide of Disagreement
The strained relations began in 1998, when the late Hugo Chávez took office and has had peaks of conflict during times of power struggles within Chavismo.
As noted in the CEV document, the Church participated in a dialogue promoted last year by Vatican Archbishop Aldo Giordano. It was set up as a request by Pope Francis and Secretary of State Pietro Parolín, but Giordano has since changed roles and now occupies the second position in the Vatican. This dialogue, “unfortunately, did not go beyond the first meetings,” says the document.
In a particularly confrontational moment, the late Chávez called the bishops “devils with robes.” When Cardinal Ignacio Velasco died, the then president said in a public speech “see you in hell,” which aroused the indignation of Catholics.
Chávez believed Velasco was involved in the coup that briefly ousted him from the presidency in 2002.
The former head of state even tried to impose a Reformed “Chavista” Catholic Church which, although nominally in operation since 2008, has not caught on.
Nicolás Maduro hasn’t continued the insults towards the Church, but he has suffered setbacks with the country’s most popular religion. In September 2014, during a public ceremony, the PSUV leadership recited “Chávez Nuestro,” a version of the Lord’s Prayer about the late president.
After accusations of idolatry by the Episcopal Conference, Maduro stood behind the Chavistaprayer, and demanded it out of “respect for the people.”
Historically, the Church leadership has been at the center of Venezuelan public life, especially during the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1952-1958). A missive written by MonsignorRafael Arias Blanco in May 1957 was decisive in the fall of the regime on January 23, 1958, a date that is about to be commemorated by the Venezuelan opposition with protests.
True to their confrontational style, the ruling PSUV have also announced counter demonstrations for that day.
The AEC’s fundamental goal is to promote a free, responsible and prosperous society. Through education and improving public understanding of key economic questions, the AEC promotes the idea of a free market economy and the ideal of a free society.