Pope Francis said Monday he was frightened that Venezuela’s political crisis could evolve into a “bloodbath.”
“What I am afraid of is a bloodbath,” the pope told reporters during a 50-minute press conference aboard the papal plane returning from Panama, adding that “the problem of violence terrifies me.”
“In this moment I support the all the people of Venezuela because they are suffering, those of one side and the other,” he said.
While other world leaders and even the Venezuelan bishops have declared dictator Nicolás Maduro’s presidency null and void, so far Pope Francis has tried not to alienate Maduro and even sent a Vatican representative to attend his inauguration while other nations boycotted the event in protest.
In early January, the Venezuelan bishops issued a forceful statement, denouncing Maduro’s new term in office as “illegitimate” and warning that it initiates an era of arbitrary rule in the beleaguered nation.
“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,” the bishops 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.”
After the Christmas festivities, a large group of Latin American leaders wrote to Pope Francis to express their consternation with the pope’s soft-pedaling of the abuses of the Maduro regime.
In his 2018 Christmas address, the pope touched on the situation of Venezuela as well as that of Nicaragua, but the blandness of his remarks seemed to irritate rather than console.
“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.”
Last Wednesday, Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself “acting president” of the beleaguered nation. The United States and a dozen countries in the region have pledged their support to Guaido, while other nations — such as Russia and China — still recognize Maduro.
“If I underscored what this or that country says, I would take a position on something I do not know; it would be a pastoral imprudence on my part and I would do damage,” the pope said during the in-flight presser.
“I have thought and rethought the words I said. And I believe that with them I have expressed my closeness, what I feel. I suffer for what is happening right now in Venezuela and for this I have called for a just and peaceful solution,” he said.
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