Amid Venezuela’s grave economic crisis, the country’s bishops have urged the government of President Nicolás Maduro to allow the Church to bring in much-needed supplies such as food and medicine.
Venezuela is suffering from a triple-digit inflation rate, economic recession, shortages of basic goods, and a power crisis.
In their April 27 statement, the Venezuelan bishops warned that never before had the country suffered from such an “extreme lack of goods and basic food and health products” along with “an upsurge in murderous and inhuman crime, the unreliable rationing of electricity and water, and deep corruption in all levels of the government and society.”
“Casting the situation in terms of an ideology and pragmatism in order to manipulate it are exacerbating it,” they warned.
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 bishops reminded the Maduro government of its duty to “encourage all forms of assistance to its citizens” to overcome the shortages.
They pointed out that “authorization is urgently needed for private institutions in the country, such as Caritas or other programs of different religious denominations (…) to bring in food, medicine, and other basic needs from national and international aid groups, and to organize distribution networks in order to meet the urgent needs of the people.”
The economic crisis has led to smuggling and a thriving black market. Widespread looting broke out last week in several cities, after extended power cuts.
Venezuela’s bishops also addressed “all those who are taking advantage of the shortages” by speculating on prices or and “those who are abusing their authority by demanding bribes.”
“This kind of behavior is morally unacceptable and makes apparent the lack of ethical values in their lives. Taking advantage of another person’s need for profit is a crime and a mortal sin,” they warned.
The bishops also touched on the issue of an amnesty bill which has been approved by the National Assembly, Venezuela’s unicameral legislature, which is led by the opposition. Maduro has rejected the bill.
“The amnesty law is a national and international outcry and a contribution to easing social tensions,” the bishops said. “To ignore the National Assembly is to ignore and trample on the will of the majority of the people.”
“All government officials, including those of the opposition, should express their serious concern for the entire people, without getting carried away by partisan or special interests. Now is the time to demonstrate your frame of mind to stand up for the common good and the genuine interests of every citizen of Venezuela,” they added.
They urged the people to not let themselves be “manipulated by those would offer to change the situation by means of social violence. But neither let yourselves be manipulated by those who urge resignation, or those who force you into silence with threats … violence, resignation, and hopelessness are serious dangers for a democracy.”
“We should never be passive or conformist citizens, but individuals aware of our own and calamitous reality: peaceful individuals, but active, and as as result, acting like protagonists of the transformation of our history and our culture. The Gospel calls us to be effective!”
This week, the Venezuelan opposition claimed that 600,000 people – triple the number needed – have signed a petition which is the first step towards a recall referendum on Maduro.