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Vatican asks Venezuela to suspend controversial constitutional process

MADURO VENEZUELA
Federico Parra | AFP
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President Nicolas Maduro to install newly-elected "Constituent Assembly"

In an unusual step into the politics of another country, the Holy See has asked the government of Venezuela to suspend the assembly that is set to rewrite the constitution.

“The Vatican on Friday issued an urgent appeal to Venezuela’s leaders to suspend the new Constituent Assembly which, it says, is threatening the future of the South American nation,” the Holy See press office said Aug. 4. “The strongly worded communique, issued by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, says Pope Francis is following closely the situation in Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro is headed towards a showdown with the opposition, as he pushes ahead with the inauguration of his new Assembly.”

Critics say President Nicolas Maduro’s plan for a new constitution could give him unprecedented powers.

The Vatican issued its statement the same day Maduro was set to install the assembly that was elected this past Sunday. It urged the government in Caracas “to prevent or suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new Constituent Assembly which, instead of fostering reconciliation and peace, foment a climate of tension.”

The press office noted that the new Constituent Assembly “holds powers that override all other government branches. Opposition leaders have denounced the erosion of democracy and vowed they will only be removed by force.”

The Vatican called on “all political actors, and in particular the government, to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the existing constitution.”

“The Holy See appeals firmly to all of society to avoid all forms of violence and invites, in particular, the security forces to refrain from excessive and disproportionate use of force,” it said.

Sunday’s election, which did not give Venezuelans the option to vote down the idea of rewriting the nation’s ruling document but merely offered a choice of who would participate in the process, was criticized as a rigged vote. It was also marred by violence, capping months of street protests in which at least 125 protesters have been killed by security forces.

The Trump Administration this week issued sanctions against Maduro and 13 of his close advisors and threatened more.

Here is an English translation of the Vatican statement:

The Holy See reiterates its profound concern at the radicalization and worsening of the crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, with the increase in deaths, injuries and detainments. The Holy Father, directly and via the Secretariat of State, is closely following the situation and its humanitarian, social, political, economic, and also spiritual implications, and assures his constant prayer for the country and all Venezuelans, while inviting faithful all over the world to pray intensely for this purpose.

At the same time, the Holy See asks that all political actors, and in particular the government, guarantee full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as for the existing Constitution; avoid or suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new Constituent which, instead of favouring reconciliation and peace, foments a climate of tension and confrontation and puts the future at stake; and create the conditions for a solution negotiated in line with the indications expressed in the letter from the Secretariat of State dated 1 September 2016, taking into account the grave sufferings of the population due to the difficulty of obtaining food and medicine, and the lack of security.

Finally, the Holy See addresses a heartfelt appeal to the entire society to avoid any form of violence, inviting the security Forces in particular to abstain from the excessive and disproportionate use of force.

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