(Vatican Radio) The Vatican on Friday issued an urgent appeal to Venezuela’s leaders to suspend the new Constituent Assembly which, it says, is threatening the future of the South American nation.
Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report:
The strongly worded communique, issued by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, says Pope Francis is following closely the situation in Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro is headed towards a showdown with the opposition, as he pushes ahead with the inauguration of his new Assembly.
The statement comes as the body's 545 delegates were expected to be installed at the legislative palace in the capital, Caracas, close to the chamber where the opposition-controlled National Assembly meets.
Erosion of democracy
The new Constituent Assembly has been tasked with rewriting the country's constitution and holds powers that override all other government branches.
Opposition leaders have denounced the erosion of democracy and vowed they will only be removed by force. Over a hundred and twenty-five people have already been killed in over three months of violent anti-government protests.
Respect rights enshrined in Constitution
The Vatican statement expresses “profound concern for the radicalisation and worsening of the crisis”, including the increase in deaths, injuries and arrests of protesters. It calls on all the country’s politicians, in particular, the government, to guarantee “full respect for human rights and basic freedoms, as well as for the existing Constitution”.
Suspend Constituent Assembly
It says initiatives such as the new Constituent Assembly should be “avoided or suspended” since they “foment a climate of tension and conflict” which “mortgages the future” of the country, rather than fostering reconciliation and peace.
The statement calls for a negotiated solution, along the lines already indicated in a previous letter from the Secretary of State on December 1st 2016. These solutions must take into account “the serious suffering of the people”, due to a lack of security, as well as the shortages of food and medicine.
Pray for Venezuela
Finally, the statement calls on all members of Venezuelan society, in particular the security forces, to avoid violence or an excessive use of force. It says the pope assures all Venezuelans of his prayers and invites people across the globe to pray intensely for the country at this moment of crisis.
Please find below the official English-language translation of the statement:
The Holy See reiterates its profound concern at the radicalization and worsening of the crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, with the increase in deaths, injuries and detainments. The Holy Father, directly and via the Secretariat of State, is closely following the situation and its humanitarian, social, political, economic, and also spiritual implications, and assures his constant prayer for the country and all Venezuelans, while inviting faithful all over the world to pray intensely for this purpose.
At the same time, the Holy See asks that all political actors, and in particular the government, guarantee full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as for the existing Constitution; avoid or suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new Constituent which, instead of favouring reconciliation and peace, foments a climate of tension and confrontation and puts the future at stake; and create the conditions for a solution negotiated in line with the indications expressed in the letter from the Secretariat of State dated 1 September 2016, taking into account the grave sufferings of the population due to the difficulty of obtaining food and medicine, and the lack of security.
Finally, the Holy See addresses a heartfelt appeal to the entire society to avoid any form of violence, inviting the security Forces in particular to abstain from the excessive and disproportionate use of force.