Upcoming referendum will only worsen crisis, Venezuelan bishops say

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Garcias, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Days before a referendum to elect a constituent assembly to
rewrite Venezuela’s constitution, leaders of the country’s bishops’ conference
said the referendum is illegal and will only increase the suffering of the

The July 30 referendum is “unconstitutional as well as
unnecessary, inconvenient and damaging to the Venezuelan people,” members
of the presiding council of the bishops’ conference said in a statement
released July 27.

“It will be a biased and skewed instrument that will
not resolve but rather aggravate the acute problems of the high cost of living and the lack of food and
medicine that the people suffer and will worsen the political crisis we
currently suffer,” the statement said.

Tensions have steadily increased under the government of
President Nicolas Maduro who continued to tighten his grip on power despite
nationwide outrage against his administration of the country’s crumbling economy.

Protests began after March 29, when the Venezuelan Supreme
Court ruled to dissolve the country’s parliament, in which the opposition had a
two-thirds majority following the 2015 elections. The unprecedented ruling
transferred legislative powers to the Supreme Court, which is comprised of
judges nominated by Maduro.

Although the government-backed court reversed its decision, Maduro’s
push for a constituent assembly comprised mainly of his supporters has led to
further violent demonstrations in which more than 100 people have died.

While emphasizing that the constituent assembly was “not convoked by the
people,” the Venezuelan bishops urged government and opposition supporters
to resist resorting to violence.

“Violence must never be the way to solve social
conflicts that worsen day by day in our Venezuelan society. Excessive repression along with
the toll of the wounded, dead and detained generates more
violence,” the bishops said.

leaders of the bishops’ conference also reminded the country’s military, which has been
accused of killing several protesters, that they are called to keep the peace
and that their “first obligation is with the people.” The military,
they said, “is constitutionally called to defend the lives of all
citizens, without any
distinction of class
or political affiliation.”

“Let us not further increase the suffering and anguish
of so many people who want to live in peace,” the bishops said. They also expressed the hope
that “the voice of protest is heard and respected and that paths of
understanding and well-being for all may be found.”

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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