Pope Francis sent a Vatican representative to attend the inauguration ceremony of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro this week, just one day after the nation’s bishops declared the presidency “illegitimate.”
While many countries — including the U.S. and most nations from Latin America and Europe — boycotted the inauguration of the Venezuelan dictator, the Vatican sent Polish Monsignor George Koovakod to attend the event. The act did not escape Maduro’s attention, and he thanked the prelate for his “courageous” presence at the event.
Dictator Nicolás Maduro declared himself the winner of last May’s anticipated election against a fellow socialist after having banned opposition parties from taking place in the election and imprisoning or exiling his strongest adversaries. The election was widely dismissed as fraudulent and marred by record low turnout.
On Wednesday, the Venezuelan bishops issued a strong statement denouncing Maduro’s new term in office as “illegitimate” and warning it ushers in an era of arbitrary rule in violation of the nation’s constitution.
In their statement, the bishops declared that the convocation to elect the President of the Republic last May 20 was illegitimate as was 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,” they said.
As a result, “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 non-recognition of the government, since it lacks democratic support in justice and law,” they said.
The bishops declared that in the present 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.”
In this year’s Christmas speech, Pope Francis touched on the situation of Venezuela as well as that of Nicaragua, but the blandness of his remarks provoked consternation among many observers.
“May this blessed season allow Venezuela once more to recover social harmony and enable all the members of society to work fraternally for the country’s development and to aid the most vulnerable sectors of the population,” the pontiff said.
Shortly afterward, twenty former Latin America heads of state and government, including Nobel Peace Prize-winner and former president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias, wrote a letter to the pope complaining of the wording of his address, saying that it minimized the oppression of Venezuelans and Nicaraguans at the hands of their governments.
“We are concerned about the call of your Holiness to social harmony,” the letter stated, “because in the present context it can be understood as asking the countries who are victims to be in concord with their oppressors, in particular, in the case of Venezuela, with a government that has produced 3 million refugees.”
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