Christians and all people of goodwill the world over should pray and hope that in the half hour they met with one another yesterday, U.S. President Donald Trump and Pope Francis discussed how to go about saving Venezuela from its continued descent into desperation and lawlessness. According to a Vatican statement, the two leaders spoke of a “joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience,” and a desire for “serene collaboration between the State and the Catholic Church in the United States.”
On the same day, May 24, 2017, that Trump and Francis met one another, the democratic opposition in Venezuela was planning to mount a large protest against the socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose government becomes more authoritarian by the day. The protest is in response to the Maduro government announcing the election of a “constituent assembly” designed to be a parallel body to the Venezuelan National Assembly, which is currently governed by a coalition of the democratic opposition after a December 2015 election. The opposition is demanding, in hopes of democratically ousting Maduro, that there be an early presidential election. It is worth noting that in just the past seven weeks alone, a minimum of 55 people have been killed during protests turned violent.
Both President Trump and Pope Francis are uniquely positioned to fight for the dignity and human rights of the Venezuelan people, currently living under the yoke of godless tyranny. In addition to leading the world’s only secular superpower, Trump is also the leader of the country that is undoubtedly the regional hegemon of the Western Hemisphere and home to some of world’s most important intergovernmental organizations that can directly affect public policy in Venezuela: the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. The United States can exert pressure on the various aforementioned organizations to force the Venezuelan government to undergo democratic reforms or risk a complete economic meltdown.
At the moment, the Venezuelan economy is in shambles after almost two decades of socialist rule, first under strongman Hugo Chavez and now under bus driver turned failing statesman Nicolas Maduro. The Venezuelan unemployment rate is expected to rise to over 25 percent in 2017 after a dismal 21.2 percent unemployment rate in 2016. Inflation in the Andean country was at least 800 percent in 2016. Venezuela is astoundingly going through an economic crisis of epic proportions in spite of being a member of the global oil cartel, OPEC, and having 24.8 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, the most of any country on Earth.
What Venezuela is currently lacking is economic prosperity, but the country’s Christians have proven that it is not the least bit lacking in faith despite the many hardships they are facing at this time. Pro-socialist government-backed protesters have made a point of targeting Catholic clergymen, and since the end of January, protesters have interrupted the celebration of Mass with shouts of, “Fascist!” and “Satan in a cassock!” Protesters supporting the socialist government decided to go after the Catholic Church after its Venezuelan clergy made the courageous decision to openly engage in political discussions regarding the country’s dual political and economic crises. Beyond interrupting worship services, thugs have thrown rocks at the Catholic Cathedral in the capital city of Caracas and even gone so far as to try and intimidate Archbishop Antonio Lopez of Barquisimeto by protesting in front of his home because the archbishop stated the simple truth in a speech that socialism caused “misery” in Venezuela, according to the Catholic News Agency.
The harassment of Catholics is not all that surprising though, given the socialist Venezuelan government’s overall disdain for those who hold Judeo-Christian values. When Chavez ran Venezuela with his iron fist, he broke off diplomatic ties with Israel in December 2008 and expelled the Israeli ambassador along with embassy staff. Over the course of his presidency, Chavez frequently slandered Israel and the Jewish people by referring to Israel as “the genocidal State of Israel” and “the murderer arm of the U.S. Empire.” It is therefore not too surprising that Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami seems to be quite the fan of Shia terrorist group Hezbollah, which openly states its desire to destroy Israel.
Pope Francis, like his secular colleague Mr. Trump, also leads a superpower, but his is a spiritual one. The Argentine pontiff is perfectly placed to lead a mighty and moral response to the untenable injustices being perpetrated by the socialist Venezuelan government against its own people. As a Latin American himself, Francis can speak to the Venezuelan people as someone who understands them culturally and politically, having also lived through the darkness that comes with dictatorships.
Whatever you may think of his politics and policy goals, Pope Francis has a long track record of getting what he wants in diplomatic negotiations with secular political leaders. It has been widely reported and confirmed that Francis was crucial as an impartial broker in negotiations between the United States and Cuba, which led up to the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries in December 2014. Francis achieved yet another diplomatic victory for the Catholic Church’s international policy goals by supporting the peace process in Colombia that led to a peace deal with Marxist terrorist group FARC, thus ending over 50 years of warring between the two sides in 2016.
The United States and the Catholic Church have done great things for the advancement of western liberal democratic principles since establishing full diplomatic ties with one another back in 1984 under the leadership of then-President Ronald Reagan and then-Pope Saint John Paul II, which swiftly led to the end of the Cold War. Just as Reagan wisely worked with John Paul II and leveraged the pontiff’s Polish nationality towards bringing about the peaceful fall of the Soviet Union, Trump must collaborate with Francis and be thankful that the Pope’s Latin American background is just what is needed to potentially resolve the Venezuelan crisis.
While Trump and Francis did not see eye to eye with one another in February 2016 regarding then-candidate Trump’s immigration policy proposals, there is too much at stake in this world for there to ever be a wall between the United States and the Vatican. When they exchanged gifts with one another at their meeting, Francis gave Trump a medallion with an olive branch so that “you can be an instrument of peace,” to which Trump replied, “We can use peace.” Perhaps in coming together to peacefully bring an end to the Venezuelan crisis, Pope Francis just might teach the American president a thing or two about the art of the diplomatic deal and make the world a better place for all.
J.P. Carroll is a freelance national security and foreign affairs reporter based in Washington D.C. His reporting tends to focus on U.S. relations with Latin America and Europe. Follow him on Twitter @JPCarrollDC1.
Photo Credit: March of Silence in Venezuela on April 22, 2017. By Jamez42, via Wikimedia Commons.