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Venezuela: the bishops’ voice against repression, “we demand peace, dialogue and reconciliation”

Continuing demonstrations and protests in Venezuela: the death toll since April 1st reached 51. The humanitarian crisis is growing worse owing to lack of food, medicines and drinking water. The bishops decided to hold a special assembly that ended on May 18. In the final statement they call for dialogue and reconciliation, without failing to mention the grave responsibilities of law enforcement authorities. Caritas Venezuela denounced in a report that 11.4% of all children under the age of 5 are undernourished

Street protests in Venezuela are ongoing. The 51st victim is a paramedic killed in Tachira, in the western part of the Country. Also the humanitarian crisis is growing worse owing to lack of medicines and food, and to a stalled production system. Inflation skyrocketed to 720%, while half the number of children under 5 are at risk of malnutrition. The Government has planned a new Constituent Assembly, while the United States imposed sanctions against eight judges of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, responsible for having “usurped the authority of the democratically-elected Venezuelan Parliament.” The Government of Nicolas Maduro has branded US pressure external interference aimed at sowing chaos and at creating the conditions for foreign intervention. In fact, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, but even so the population is on its knees. Russian President Vladimir Putin conveyed his support to Maduro, hoping for “the success of the Venezuelan government in its efforts to normalize” the country. In this complex, difficult situation that has been lasting for the past month and a half, the bishops decided to hold a special assembly in Caracas, that ended on May 18.  In their pastoral exhortation they made appeals to dialogue and reconciliation, calling upon political leaders and law enforcement officers to end “all forms of violence, along with the disproportionate acts of repression.” On Sunday May 21st churches across the Country will celebrate a Day of fasting, prayer and solidarity for peace and reconciliation in the Country.

The bishops: challenges and appeals. In the long 16-point document Venezuela’s Bishops’ listed the challenges that need to be faced to overcome the crisis. These are: “the commitment for peace”, creating “opportunities for encounter and dialogue aimed at the negotiation of real solutions”; the “prophetic condemnation” of “every aspect that harms citizens’ dignity”; “fraternal solidarity” towards “all those facing food and medicine shortage and price increases in their daily life”; charity and prayer. “We call upon the population to continue expressing their opinions in a peaceful way – they wrote -. The strong and legitimate appeal to respect citizens’ rights should not be marred by acts of violence.” The bishops urged to strengthen “the exercise of democracy” through “the electoral process, as enshrined in the Constitution”, reiterating their firm NO to a new Constituent Assembly. The bishops called upon political leaders “to be at the service of the people”; “open to dialogue with freedom and respect” and urged “the members of Armed Forces and Police, to be the guarantors and the defenders of the Constitution.” The bishops’ appeal is addressed, in particular, “to the conscience of the leaders before the death of so many citizens caused by abuses perpetrated by security forces and by repressive actions.” “The moral responsibility of actions that escalate into violence and deaths falls upon those who promote them, order them and allow them to take place”, they said.

Caritas, “a serious humanitarian crisis”. In the same days Caritas Venezuela released a report that denounces the serious humanitarian crisis, urgently demanding international aids. In some areas of the Country 11.4% of children under 5 already suffer from severe or moderate forms of malnutrition (for the World Heath Organization the threshold is 10%), half of the youngest ones run an imminent risk. Four years ago the rate of acute malnutrition was at 3%. “We are extremely worried – said Janeth Márquez, Director of Caritas Venezuela -. If we don’t intervene immediately it will be hard for these children to recover the nutritional growth curve.” According to the Report, over 8 families in ten, in the 31 parishes surveyed, have decreased their food intake. Almost 6 out of 10 said that some members of the family give up their meals to feed someone else. In most cases mothers give up their food for their children. 1 family in 12 rummages in waste cans outside restaurants or in garbage cans in search of food. People are running out of drinking water, hospitals finished their drug supplies, while mosquito-spread diseases are increasing. Caritas set up “sentinel centres” where parents can check the nutritional level of their children and be given food supplements and essential medicines.

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