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PopeWatch: Venezuela

 

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Sandro Magister at his blog Chiesa reviews the recent attempts to act as the mediator between the Venezuelan regime and the opposition:

 

ROME, November 7, 2016 – Mysteries of Vatican information. “L’Osservatore Romano” is rightly appreciated for the extensive coverage that it provides every day of events around the world. But in order to know that Pope Francis on the evening of October 24 met at Santa Marta with the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro Moros, its readers had to wait until November 3, and learn it from the pope’s own words, spoken during the return flight from Sweden to Rome and reported on the last page of the newspaper.

“L’Osservatore” – as also the official bulletin of the Holy See – also kept a complete silence on the Vatican’s role in opening discussions between the Maduro regime and the opposition, begun right after the unexpected meeting between the pope and the Venezuelan president.

In effect, since October 24 “L’Osservatore Romano” has published highly detailed reports every day on events in Venezuela. But without a single line on what has been making the most news, namely the direct efforts in Venezuelan affairs by the pope and the Holy See, with his emissaries on the ground.

So let’s reconstruct this story. Starting with what led up to it.

A first attempt at dialogue between the government and opposition, with the presence at the dialogue table table of the nuncio in Venezuela, Aldo Giordano, dates back to April of 2014, and also back then Pope Francis put himself forward to support it, in particular with a message addressed to President Maduro, to the members of the government, to the representatives of the opposition and to the members of the Union of South American Nations, initialed UNASUR:

> “Al Excelentísimo Presidente Nicolás Maduro Moros…”

The attempt fizzled at the outset and there was no effect, in September of that same 2014, from a second appeal of the pope, read by nuncio Giordano during an interreligious meeting for peace organized in Caracas by the national council of the laity of Venezuela:

> “Non abbiate paura della pace”. Lettera di papa Francesco al Venezuela

It took two years for a flame to be reignited, while Venezuela plunged into an ever more devastating crisis.

On July 25, 2016, the secretary general of UNASUR, former Colombian president Ernesto Samper Pizano, wrote a letter to the pope also in the name of three other ex-presidents: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, Martín Torrijos of Panama, and Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic.

In the letter, the four ask that the Holy See become part of the group of “facilitadores” of the dialogue between government and opposition in Venezuela.

The response to the letter came not from Pope Francis but from his secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who knows Venezuela well, having been nuncio there from 2009 to 2013.

In his response of August 12, Parolin declares the willingness of the Holy See, on the condition that it be the interested parties, government and opposition, that issue the invitation and show themselves “receptive to accepting the eventual suggestions”:

> Texto de la carta del card. P. Parolin al secretario de UNASUR

Among the bishops of Venezuela, however, many are skeptical. “A government that does not provide food and medicine for its citizens and refuses to allow religious and social organizations to work to alleviate the suffering of the population lacks the moral authority to invoke dialogue and peace,” Cumaná archbishop Diego Padrón Sanchez, president of the episcopal conference, said last July.

And even more critical toward the Maduro regime is the archbishop of Mérida, Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo. Whom Pope Francis included on October 9 among the next new cardinals.

On the evening of October 24, a coup de theatre. Maduro makes a stop in Rome on his way back from a trip to oil producing states in the Middle East, and is received at Santa Marta by Pope Francis.

The meeting is private, and there are no official photos or statements from it.But the Venezuelan presidency and various press offices – including Vatican Radio and the quasi-Vatican blog “Il Sismografo” – publicize it with the images of the previous audience with Maduro in 2013, this one indeed perfectly official and conducted in the Apostolic Palace, as if to authenticate a new “blessing” of the pope on his guest.

In Venezuela, among the critics of the regime, the first reactions were therefore of dismay, increased by the arrival in Caracas on October 25 of an envoy from the pope in the person of the nuncio to Argentina, Emil Paul Tscherrig, with the mandate of beginning a dialogue precisely when “the country is at its last gasp” and the “deadlock” between Maduro and the opposition is at its acme, as stated by a headline in “L’Osservatore Romano.”

Newly created cardinal Baltazar Porras says that he has not been informed of the arrival of an envoy from the Holy See. While the nuncio in Caracas, Giordano, is silent, apparently superseded by his colleague in from Buenos Aires at the mandate of the pope.

Tscherrig instead speaks and acts. He meets separately with representatives of the government and of the opposition, although with the refusal of a part of the latter, and announces for October 30 a first round of discussions on the island of Margarita.

The tension reaches its peak on Friday, October 28, with the country paralyzed by a general strike and even “on the brink of the abyss,” again as in a headline in “L’Osservatore Romano.”

But then, little by little, some pieces fall into place. Tscherrig exits the stage and in his place there comes from Rome the “true” emissary of the pope, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli (see photo), former president of the disbanded pontifical council for social communications, but above all a diplomat of long international experience, from China to South America.

Celli arrives in Caracas with a letter in hand “en nombre del Papa Francisco,” addressed to all the sides in the dispute:

 

 

> Texto de la carta del enviado del Papa…

In the letter, Celli urges not to disqualify anyone as an “absolute and eternal enemy,” because even “the deadly enemy of today can become an indispensable companion in the journey toward the future.”

And again “in the name of Pope Francis” he asks that “there be agreed upon” at the beginning of this process “some concrete actions that would demonstrate the good will of both sides.”

In effect this is precisely what happens. The Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, the anti-regime coalition that has the majority in parliament, suspends the procedure to remove president Maduro and cancels the protest march to the presidential residence scheduled for November 3. While for his part Maduro sets free a small number of the more than one hundred political prisoners held in the Venezuelan prisons.

And so on Sunday, October 30, the two sides meet for the first time. Not on the island of Margarita, as initially planned for security reasons, but in Caracas, at the Alejandro Otero museum. Five representatives of the opposition are present, including the president of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, Jesus Torrealba. Absent however are the representatives of Voluntad Popular, the leader of which, Leopoldo López, is the most famous of the political prisoners still in custody.

The parties leave each other with the agreement to meet again on November 11 and to open four specific topics of discussion: on respect for the rule of law, on reparations for the victims, on the election schedule, on the economic situation of the country.

The first meeting – and it will be the same at the next – was attended, with the role of “facilitadores,” by the four ex-presidents Samper, Zapatero, Torrijos, and Fernández, together with Vatican emissary Celli. But over all of them hovers the decisive presence of Pope Francis, as Celli emphasized in an interview with Vatican Radio:

“This was the common understanding, and the opposition itself repeated it to me various times: ‘We are here only because you are!’, meaning: the role that is played by the figure of Pope Francis in this context is fundamental. The four ex-presidents themselves have all emphasized that if the Holy See had not been on this journey and with its presence, this journey would not even have begun. I can say this in all serenity. Former prime minister Zapatero himself, of Spain, whose career and history we all know, has recognized officially, in public, that all of this is due to the presence of Pope Francis and therefore to the presence of the Holy See that accompanies this process of dialogue.”

The presidency of the episcopal conference also associates itself with the opening of dialogue, with an appeal to the parties for “total adherence to the Holy Father in his efforts on behalf of the Venezuelan people”:

> Los Obispos miembros de la Presidencia…

And it is at this point that Francis himself speaks of the matter. He does so on November 1, on the return flight to Rome from Sweden, where he had gone to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

Asked by the Spanish journalist Eva Fernández about the audience with Maduro and the beginning of the discussions, the pope responds:

“The president of Venezuela asked for a meeting and an appointment because he was coming from the Middle East, from Qatar, from the other Emirates and had to make a stopover in Rome. He had asked for a meeting before. He came in 2013; then he asked for another appointment, but he became sick and was not able to come; and he asked for this. When a president asks, one is to receive him, and moreover he was in Rome, on a stopover. I listened to him for half an hour at that appointment; I listened to him, I asked him a few questions, and I listened to his opinion. It is always good to hear all opinions. I listened to his opinion.

“In reference to the second aspect, dialogue is the only path for all conflicts. For all conflicts! Either one dialogues or one shouts, but there is no other option. My whole heartfelt effort is for dialogue, and I believe that this is the way to go. I don’t know what the end will be, I don’t know, because it is very complex, but the people who are involved in dialogue are people of important political stature. Zapatero, who was president of Spain’s government twice, and Restrepo [and all the sides] asked the Holy See to be present in the dialogue. And the Holy See designated the nuncio in Argentina, Archbishop Tscherrig, who I believe is there, at the negotiating table. But the dialogue that favors negotiation is the only path for getting out of conflicts, there is no other. If the Middle East had done this, how many lives would have been saved!”

Taken in their strict sense, these words of the pope would give the idea that at the moment he was not aware that Celli had already replaced Tscherrig, this latter being a friend of his, since he was nuncio in Argentina when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was still archbishop of Buenos Aires.

And this misunderstanding, together with the stupefying silences of “L’Osservatore Romano,” could be a sign of a less than smooth relationship between Santa Marta and the secretariat of state, or between the pope and Cardinal Parolin, in the management of the whole operation.

But this does not change the fact that Pope Francis and the Holy See have now brought Venezuela into sharp focus, after having long overlooked it.

And curiously, they have done so in conjunction with the appointment as new superior general of the Society of Jesus, to which the pope belongs, of a Jesuit from Venezuela, Fr. Arturo Marcelino Sosa Abascal, very well versed in political science and today Solomonically critical of both Maduro’s dictatorial “Chavism” and the democratic weakness of the opposition:

> Il nuovo “papa nero” è uno scienziato della politica

“Audacity of the impossible” is the rallying cry of the new general of the Jesuits. Very appropriate for an enterprise that is truly at the limits of the impossible like bringing peace and a new start to Venezuela.

 

Go here to read the rest.  Mediation works only works if both parties are willing to negotiate in good faith.  The gangsters currently running Venezuela can only be successfully “negotiated” with through the means of superior fire power.  It is unsurprising that the Pope fails to see this, since he seems to prefer the world that he has erected in his mind to the one which we all inhabit.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

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