"Institutional Bankruptcy" of Venezuela Decried

Bishops Say Police Institutions Have Left Population Defenseless

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CARACAS, Venezuela, NOV. 28, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Venezuela's bishops lamented the "institutional bankruptcy" of the country and appealed to the authorities and citizens to respect one another, regardless of their ideological differences.



In a statement released this week by the episcopal conference, entitled "He Who Hates His Brother Is a Murderer," the bishops warn of "a systematic violation of human rights, primarily the right to life, to security, to freedom of expression, to property and to freedom of movement."

According to the bishops, the most serious factor is the inability to identify "the culprits or those responsible" who are opening the country to greater violence and disrepute.

For months, Venezuela has endured political instability. Last week, the opposition, which demands the resignation of President Hugo Chávez, called the fourth general strike in less than a year, in the midst of negotiations with the government being carried out through the mediation of César Gaviria, secretary of the Organization of American States.

In reaction to the proposed strike, Chávez went on television to reiterate that he would not resign from office, even if he loses a consultative referendum.

"People suffer growing poverty, and endure defenselessness due to public powers that are very deficient in their primary function of service to the citizenry," says the bishops' conference statement.

The statement was signed by Archbishop Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, president of the conference; Cardinal Ignacio Velasco García, archbishop of Caracas, and Archbishop Ubaldo Santana Sequera of Maracaibo, the two vice presidents; and Auxiliary Bishop José Luis Azuaje Ayala, secretary-general.

The bishops' grave concern is due to "the present disestablishment of some police institutions of the country," which "has left the people of the capital defenseless, at the mercy of criminals and the abuse of radical groups, to such an extent that there has been an increase of criminality since the beginning of the conflict."

The prelates add: "There can be no talk of genuine democracy without tolerance, without respect for legality, without autonomous public powers, without listening to the anxieties and claims of a growing sector of the Venezuelan population. Either there is a government for all, equally, or sectarianism and anarchy will take hold of society."

The episcopal conference believes that the Supreme Court of Justice and National Assembly "have a historic responsibility at this time of institutional bankruptcy" in the country, since "the peace of all Venezuelans depends on their decision."

In particular, the bishops address the armed forces, to remind them that they are the guarantors "of the sovereignty and integrity of the nation," and that they must avoid being turned into instruments "of repression against the citizenry and its rights."

"The face of every Venezuelan is that of a brother, even if he thinks differently to oneself," the message adds. "It is inhuman to ignore or exclude our neighbor; to eliminate him is criminal. It is sensible to understand one another and to reconcile."