The political and socio-economic crisis in Venezuela continues: a new wave of protests organized by labor unions took place in mid-July, while President Nicolas Maduro shows no signs of desiring to leave power. The Venezuelan government continues to look for new targets it can blame for the country’s woes. Disturbingly, the Venezuelan church has become the latest.

Picking Fights

Unlike in Nicaragua, where the church has tried to maintain a sense of impartiality in order to be a successful third-party mediator between the Daniel Ortega regime and opposition movements, the years-long economic crisis in Venezuela, combined with growing discontent against the Maduro regime, may have finished alienating whatever sense of neutrality the Venezuelan clergy could attempt to maintain.

For example, in 2017, Monsignor Diego Padrón, former president of Venezuela’s Episcopal Conference (CEV), critiqued the creation of the Constituent National Assembly (ANC), a controversial legislative body created by the regime to replace the opposition-controlled National Assembly. He stated that the government resembled “a military, socialist, Marxist and communist dictatorship,” adding that there is no longer a conflict between right-leaning versus left-leaning ideologies in the country, but rather “a struggle between the government that has become a dictatorship and a population that wants freedom.” Additionally, as El Independiente explains, the CEV has released statements condemning government-sponsored violence, including extrajudicial killings. In fact, a CEV press release on July 11 clearly states that “the principal party responsible for the crisis that we are witnessing is the national government, as it placed its political project above any other issue, even humanitarian affairs.”

Moreover, Bishop Victor Hugo Basabe of Yaracuy state held a mass on January 14 in which he prayed to free Venezuela “of the pest that is corruption that drove the country to moral, economic and social ruin.” That same day, Archbishop Antonio Lopez Medina from Lara state begged heaven to free Venezuela of hunger and corruption.

President Maduro did not like this.

In remarks made to the ANC, the Venezuelan head of state declared that the “so-called priests of the Catholic Church, the bishops [have] evil, poison, hate, perversity,” and they are, according to the president, calling for a civil war. Additionally, he called for official inquiries to look into whether the aforementioned statements qualify as “hate crimes, that seek to promote confrontations between Venezuelans.” The president then declared that Venezuelans are Christians and no longer need “intermediaries…least of all these devils in liturgical garments.”

Ongoing Attempts to Mediate

In spite of verbal clashes between Caracas and certain church members, the latter are still optimistic about restoring peace. In early July, Monsignor Jose Luis Azuaje, CEV president, called for greater maturity and responsibility, stating that “the politician, the entrepreneur, the military officer, social leaders, everyone has to be responsible for his actions.” He also said that the church will never say no to dialogue in order to prevent further violence. Similarly, the Vatican has also repeatedly called for talks in the country.

At this point, even the most optimistic person must recognize that further negotiation in the South American country seems pointless, as the Venezuelan regime has not demonstrated its willingness to carry out a transition of power. If anything, the current regime is attempting to secure its control even more, as exemplified by the creation of the controversial ANC in 2017, and the May 2018 elections, which (unsurprisingly) President Maduro won. The efforts by the CEV and Vatican to maintain dialogue are commendable but unlikely to bear fruit.

Final Thoughts

It is hard to imagine how things could get worse in Venezuela than they already are. In its paranoia and desire to stay in power, the government is cracking down on its own armed forces. As President Maduro and his allies look for conspiracies everywhere, his regime has imprisoned dozens if not hundreds of military officers and has given promotions to loyal troops. Venezuela is on a dangerous road as it gives the military few reasons to remain neutral in political affairs.

As for the Venezuelan church, it has largely tried to remain impartial in the ongoing crisis, though it seems that even the clergy’s heavenly patience is running out. Normally, picking a fight with the church would be a grave mistake for any government, but Venezuela’s regime is past worrying about it.

Venezuela’s turmoil reminds us of the Book of Job and the challenges and tribulations that the man for whom it was named had to endure. We have yet to see when Venezuela’s aches and suffering will end.

Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues in the Western Hemisphere. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Photo Credit: President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro in Quito, Pero. By Carlos Rodríguez/Andes, via Flickr.