The bishops of Venezuela have said that Nicolas Maduro’s swearing in for a second term as president Thursday is illegitimate.
“The claim to be initiating a new presidential term of office on 10 January 2019 is illegitimate in its origin and opens the door to the nonrecognition of the government, since it lacks democratic support in justice and law,” the Venezuelan bishops’ conference wrote in a Jan. 9 exhortation issued at their plenary assembly.
They recalled their statement of July 11, 2018 that the presidential election held that May “was illegitimate, as is likewise the Constituent National Assembly established by the executive authority. We are faced with arbitrary rule, without respect for the guarantees laid down in the Constitution or the highest principles of the dignity of the people.”
Maduro was sworn in for his second six-year term Jan. 10 before the Supreme Court, instead of the opposition-controlled legislature, the National Assembly. The National Assembly has been superseded by the Constituent Assembly, formed in 2017 after contested elections.
The bishops wrote that “In this present political, social and economic crisis, the National Assembly, elected by the free and democratic vote of the Venezuelan people, is currently the sole organ of public authority with the legitimacy to exercise its powers with sovereignty.”
They recalled that Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, has called for the restoration of the National Assembly, and they stated: “The vote of confidence that the Venezuelan people has conferred on it should now be recognised in the fulfilment of the duties of its deputies in devising and promulgating the laws which the country needs for the re-establishment of democracy and the return to decency and honesty in the administration of the public purse.”
The May 2018 presidential election was boycotted by the opposition, and faced claims of vote-rigging. Some opposition candidates were barred from running.
The National Assembly, which continues to meet despite its dissolution by the Maduro administration, has said it will not recognize Maduro’s second term. The US and 13 other American countries have said they will no longer recognize Maduro’s government.
Christian Zerpa, a judge of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, fled to the US this week to protest the inauguration, saying the May election “was not free and competitive.”
Among those attending the inauguration were Daniel Ortega and Evo Morales, the presidents of Nicaragua and Bolivia. The governments of El Salvador and Cuba have also expressed support for Maduro.
The bishops said they look forward to 2019 “as a favourable opportunity for the transformation for which the country is crying out – namely the restoration of the Rule of Law, according to the Constitution, and the rebuilding of Venezuelan society in dignity, freedom and justice for all. We wish to nourish the true hope of the people, sustained in the mystery of the Nativity, which celebrates the fact that the Son of God has become human and poor in order to make us more human and greater in mutual solidarity.”
Venezuela is in an “extremely grave situation”, they said, citing “the violations of human dignity, the disrespect of the common good and the manipulation of truth.”
“The Venezuelan people are living through a critical and extremely grave situation on account of the deterioration in respect for their rights and their quality of life, added to a growing poverty and the lack of anyone to whom they can turn. It is a sin crying out to heaven to seek to maintain power at all costs and presume to prolong the chaos and inefficiency of the last few decades. This is morally unacceptable! God does not will that the people should suffer by being subjected to injustices. Hence it is urgently necessary to heed the popular clamour for change, for a united effort to achieve the transition that has been hoped for and sought by the overwhelming majority.”
The majority of Venezuelans, the bishops said, reject “the politics of hunger, political persecution military and political repression, political prisoners, torture, corruption, inefficiency and ineffectiveness in public administration. As citizens and as institutions it is up to us to assume the responsibilities that belong to us to improve the present situation and rescue the country.”
“As Pope Francis says, we need to work together to find paths of ‘concord’ and understanding, of union among the Venezuelan people, of responses to the many problems and defence of human rights that will enable us to overcome the crisis and attend to the needs of the poorest.”
Noting the need to help “the least of our brethren,” the bishops said the Church is committed to helping “the weakest and most defenceless within the country to survive, and also those who have emigrated,” to “working for the defence and promotion of human rights” and to develop “training and organisation programmes that will enable the recovery of the democratic institutions and the rebuilding of the country in a peaceful manner.”
They thanked Pope Francis for “for his constant closeness and concern for our country,” and “the Churches and Governments of many different countries for their solidarity, and their concern for those of our countrymen who, as a result of the crisis, have felt forced to leave the country in search of better conditions of life.”
Since Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval.
Poor economic policies, including strict price controls, coupled with high inflation rates, have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers and medicines.
An estimated 3 million people have fled the country since 2014.
Venezuela’s Socialist Government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price control on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.
Inflation in Venezuela in 2018 was estimated by the National Assembly at 1.3 million percent.