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Chaos as All Sides of Venezuelan Conflict Turn Their Ire Towards the Vatican

Venezuela’s anti-socialist opposition has skipped a third meeting with the government mediated by the Vatican as the Socialist Party’s second-in-command chides Pope Francis for being “disrespectful,” in a sign that the Vatican’s role in attempting to bring an end to Venezuela’s woes has changed little.

The head of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of opposition parties that united against socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro, announced that his negotiators would not attend another meeting with the government if the talks did not yield tangible changes for the opposition, such as the release of political prisoners or Maduro’s acceptance of the National Assembly as legitimately elected.

“The dialogue shouldn’t exist simply to buy the government time,” Jesús “Chuo” Torrealba said about the opposition’s decision to sit out the meeting; “the negotiating table isn’t an instrument for mockery.”

“We’ll only sit down with the government again once they meet what was agreed on,” he promised.

The Vatican has responded to this rejection by scheduling another meeting for January 13. “We must begin a stage that will bring us towards the reactivation, consolidation and sustainability of dialogue,” Vatican envoy Claudio Maria Celli said of the dialogue, according to Reuters.

Many in the opposition have expressed frustration with this timeline and the fact that the nation’s over 100 political prisoners remain in jail. They argue that what they are demanding — respect for a constitutionally-permitted recall petition and the freedom of opposition politicians arrested on false “terrorism” charges — are not policy issues but baseline rights in a democracy.

At the forefront of those calling for more action on the part of MUD is María Corina Machado, a former opposition lawmaker police physically ousted from her position in 2014 with tear gas. She has remained active, leading a march in Caracas this week holding a banner that reads, “In Venezuela, we eat garbage.”

“They tell us not to do anything to affect the ‘dialogue’ until January 13… nothing that affects the hunger, the garbage, Maduro,” she wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “Children are eating garbage and they tell us not to do anything until January?”

A recent study found that over 15 percent of Venezuelans survive by eating garbage, while 97 percent do not have the means to secure three meals a day for themselves.

The outrage is not limited to the opposition, however. Following the leak of a letter from the Vatican to Maduro himself, the socialists in power have accused the Vatican of attempting to bully them into adhering to international human rights norms.

“[The letter] is disrespectful, irresponsible, they think that from the Vatican they can possess Venezuela,” Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello objected this week. “The Vatican is not an intermediary or mediator, they are there are guests and facilitators,” Cabello insisted.

Diosdado Cabello, formerly the head of the National Assembly, has been repeatedly accused of running one of the most profitable cocaine trafficking operations in the world, the Cartel de los Soles. Cabello sued The Wall Street Journal for publishing evidence against him in the Soles cartel case.

The letter that has so incensed Cabello is one in which Cardinal Pietro Parolin, writing on behalf of Pope Francis, demands that the Venezuelan government “take the necessary measures to restore as soon as possible the Constitutionally mandated role of the National Assembly” and “apply legal instruments to accelerate the process of liberating political prisoners.” Maduro’s Supreme Court decreed that the National Assembly’s rule was illegitimate after the opposition won last year’s national elections.

The letter goes on to express “with pain and concern” that the Vatican had observed “a disturbing delay in the adoption of necessary measures for the concrete application of the agreements.”

The Vatican letter appears in part to be in response to added pressure from opposition groups demanding their relatives arrested for their political opinions be freed. This week, Lilian Tintori, the wife of political prisoner Leopoldo López, led a protest in front of the Vatican demanding the pope intervene to free her husband. Her mother-in-law, Antonieta López, and the wife of former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma joined her as the three chained themselves to the Vatican gates.

“We are here for the 108 political prisoners who are being held unjustly in Venezuela. They must be released,” Tintori told reporters, releasing a video in which she confirms the trio have been chained to the Vatican for more than 50 hours.

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