Venezuelan Prelates Plea for Peace

Tensions High as Vote Nears on Constitutional Reform

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CARACAS, Venezuela, NOV. 12, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Venezuela's episcopal conference decried the violence that erupted from both sides in the divided South American nation ahead of a referendum on President Hugo Chávez's constitutional reforms.



At least seven people were killed last week amid protests against the 69 proposed constitutional amendments that would give more power to the president. The reform would eliminate presidential term limits and give Chávez control over the Central Bank. A Dec. 2 referendum is set to confirm or reject the changes.

The Venezuelan episcopal conference released a statement Thursday titled "Busca la Paz y Anda Tras Ella!" (Look for Peace and Go After It).

The bishops' statement says, "Faced with the proposed constitutional reform, supported by some, questioned by others, Venezuela is living moments of great political intensity, which has led to legitimate student protests, but also to acts of verbal and physical violence that disturb peace."

The bishops affirm they will "contribute to rescuing and promoting the necessary climate of social coexistence." And they appealed to "all Venezuelans, and particularly to national powers and social, political and student leaders, from any sector or political party, to make an effort to act with serenity, with a truly democratic spirit, within the boundaries of the constitution and the law, to maintain peace and avoid violence, which we reject no matter from where it comes."

However, the bishops defended peaceful protests as a legitimate demonstration of democracy and called on public officials to be fair in controlling public demonstrations.

"The state and the government are constitutionally obligated to guarantee to all Venezuelans the exercise of their human rights, particularly the right to peacefully and publicly demonstrate their agreement or disagreement with the proposed constitutional reform, without being object of attacks, discrediting or offenses," the bishops said.

"No one has the right to assault, discredit or offend those who dissent from their opinion," they added.

On Sunday Cardinal Jorge Urosa, archbishop of Caracas, said that the reform would endanger, among other things, "the religious aspect, which is fundamental for human beings," reported the Associated Press.

Chávez attracted international attention Saturday when he was publicly told to "shut up" by Spain's King Juan Carlos at the end of a meeting of leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, held in Chile. Chávez repeatedly interrupted Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who was encouraging the Venezuelan leader to be respectful, despite political differences.