Venezuelan government blasted for blocking Church aid
.- A top Venezuelan prelate slammed president Nicolás Maduro’s lack of “moral authority” in calling for peace while preventing the Church and other institutions from relieving the country’s severe food crisis.
“The interests of the government are not the interests of the country,” said Archbishop Diego Padrón of Cumaná, who heads the Venezuelan Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The archbishop made his remarks during his opening speech at the Venezuelan Conference of Catholic Bishops’ recent plenary assembly.
Venezuela’s socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap, and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.
“The ungovernability, aside from the brutal repression, the lack of serious and stabilizing responses that would be more than improvisational and provisional, create the widespread perception that the global crisis is getting more acute and is being prolonged with no end in sight,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Padrón warned that this perception creates in the population “uncertainty, hopelessness, depression, anger and social violence.” He cited the example of looting and riots over food shortages which took place in Cumaná in mid-June and in Tucupita between June 30 and July 1, with dozens of arrests and clashes with the National Guard.
These cities as well as others, he said, “have experienced the effects of the wrong economic and social policies and the indolence of the authorities.”
“It seems like a new edition of the ‘Caracazo’ coming out in chapters,” Archbishop Padrón warned in reference to the protests and riots that occurred in Caracas between Feb. 27 and March 8, 1989 during the government of President Carlos Andrés Pérez. At that time the country was facing another economic crisis, with protests that ended with around 300 deaths.
During his remarks, Archbishop Padrón restated the Church’s request that through Caritas, it could bring in “the medications needed by many Venezuelans requiring heightened medical attention.”
“The ability of Caritas Venezuela to pull together resources and the cooperation of private institutions – and not of government entities – makes us capable of receiving and adequately distributing the many offers we receive daily from the outside.”
“This is not the ultimate solution but it would provide relief that we shouldn’t be waiting for any more,” he said.
In May of this year, Caritas Venezuela’s director Janeth Marquez told CNA that as of that time, her organization had made three attempts to reach out to Maduro’s regime asking that food and medicine be allowed into the country.
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Venezuela was once the country of dreams—but those dreams have turned into nightmares. Such is the verdict of one of the country’s bishops.
Case in point, Bishop Jaime Villarroel of the Diocese of Carúpano, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: Most of the young people in the north-western state of Sucre have left university because they “do not have the money for paper, let alone for photocopies or pens.”
A university education has become the privilege of a select few, the prelate charged, adding that many young people join gangs or become criminals: “The people are afraid,” he continued, as drugs, murder and torture have now become part of everyday life. “We are worse off than ever. Hospitals have neither medicine nor bandages. There is no food in the houses. Trucks are constantly being plundered because the people are hungry and no longer have any regard for anything, the bishop said.
Citizens receive food rations each month that include flour, noodles, butter and sugar, but the portions are too small. “Each family receives 300 grams of powdered milk, half a kilo of pasta or 200 grams of butter. If they would like to buy something else, such as meat, eggs or fish, then they have to pay for it with money that they don’t have,” Bishop Villarroel said.
He continued: “the children especially are suffering from malnutrition. The food rations are supposed to be enough for a month, but they don’t even last a week. The people are fainting from hunger. Famine reigns, which used to be unthinkable for Venezuela. We no longer know what to do or to whom we should turn. The police and also the politicians are often corrupt. We feel forsaken.”
The Church has a crucial role in mitigating best it can the impact of the crisis. “It is our job to be there for our people and to relay a message of trust in God. Pastoral visits are a source of great strength in this terrible situation,” the prelate stressed.
However, the Church is also battered itself. In the Diocese of Carúpano—where only 2 percent of the people go to Mass, and where evangelization efforts “haven’t reached the hearts of the people”—the bishop said, churches and even cathedrals are subject to violent attacks. Elsewhere, four young seminarians were recently assaulted and humiliated—with no response from authorities.
Bishop Villarroel said the Church and its people have to do their utmost to persist in a “culture of survival,” a severe test for the spirit of the country.
In 2015, Aid to the Church in Need funded 27 pastoral projects in Venezuela with a total of more than $220,000 in grants. Another 15 projects are being funded this year, the bulk—like last year—going to publishing initiatives, because the shortages of basic goods, including paper, make it practically impossible to produce catechetical materials.