The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need is taking part in the prayer day for peace in Venezuela being held on Sunday, 21 May.
During a visit to the international head office of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the archbishop of Mérida, Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras, spoke with María Lozano about the exceedingly grave condition of the country. He emphasised the terrible situation in which the people find themselves because of a lack of medicine and food. At the same time, he asked all faithful to take part in the prayer day for peace in Venezuela being held this Sunday that was initiated by the Bishops’ Conference.
Königstein, 15.05.2017. Over the last few weeks, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference has released two statements on the grave events and the violent political conflicts currently taking place in the country. They are calling for Venezuelans to “repudiate each and every violent statement and to respect the rights of all citizens.” The Bishops’ Conference emphasised the duty of the state constitution to ensure that “civil and non-violent protest is possible”. In their last letter of 5 May, the bishops described the latest decisions of the Maduro government and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice as “misguided” and “unnecessary”. They asked that the “constitution not be changed, but followed”. The government should concentrate on the country’s current problems, such as the lack of “foods, medicine, freedom, personal and legal safety as well as peace.”
Cardinal Porras, one of the signatories of the letters and honorary chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, explained during his visit to the international pontifical foundation ACN the necessity of these declarations on the part of the Venezuelan church, which needs to take on a “responsible role”. He describes this role as “a kind of subsidiarity task that goes beyond that which would be necessary in other circumstances and says that, at the moment, “the people face reprisals when they do not agree with the official politics or if they hold a different opinion: threats, fines, prison sentences, deportation … The current social climate can scarcely be understood from the outside. The room to manoeuvre freely is getting smaller and smaller. At the moment, everything here is one-dimensional.”
In this context, the archbishop of Mérida considers the lack of respect for the right to pluralism to be especially serious. “It is all about pushing through a system in which nothing other than the official opinion counts. The others are not allowed. If, for example, a demonstration is planned, a parallel event is immediately organised on the same day and at the same time. It is all about showing who is more powerful.” Cardinal Porras deplores that “the discourse on class warfare” is still alive in Venezuela. “One person achieves something by using hatred against the other. This is the militaristic discourse of ‘anyone who is not with me, is against me’. Eliminating the enemy is the only important thing. This has torn social coexistence apart.”
The archbishop does not mention Nicolás Maduro by name. But the responsibility of the current government is assumed when the cardinal emphasises that the root of the problem can be traced back to much earlier times. “The 18 years of the Chávez government and then Maduro are also the result of the deterioration that occurred during the years preceding them. Venezuela was able to grow thanks to oil. The country grew both economically and in its infrastructure. But the accelerated growth also led the governing class to forget the people. After all, this is a gift of nature and not the result of personal hard work. The government did a lot of things, but they forgot the people. This is why the ‘Messianic’ discourse was later taken up with such enthusiasm.”
A native of Caracas, the 72-year-old cardinal openly criticises “the pooling of all government powers. This leads to impunity and corruption.” A key to the problem is also the desire to always make others responsible for the bad. “This is repeated over and over again. All bad things are ascribed to others. Or comparisons are made to the past. This is how teenagers act! For example, when the fact that there are political prisoners in Venezuela today is called into question, the response is that there were also political prisoners in the past. But the problems are here now, especially the lack of food and medicine as well as safety.”
These are the three problems that the archbishop worries about most. This is obvious just by looking at him. “I had to bury a 35-year-old priest who had had a cerebral haemorrhage. According to the physicians, he could have been saved had a certain drug been available to us, one that is not that unusual. But we did not have it. And so he died. This happens every day. Because we do not even have the basic supplies for surgical procedures, for accidents, for old people or babies, who usually need a more special kind of medication.”