With coronavirus understandably being the focus of most people’s thoughts these days, it’s not surprising that other important events might escape our attention. Consider, for example, the fact that tens of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets on March 10 this week in their nation’s capital, Caracas, as well as other cities to demand an end to the Chavista dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro which has driven the country into an economic black hole from which it shows no signs of emerging.
Civil society in Venezuela has, for the most part, been coopted or crushed by the Maduro regime. There is, however, one very important exception. Lead by the Venezuelan Catholic bishops conference, the Catholic Church has not let up in its criticisms of the regime. It also continues to call for a peaceful transition towards democratic arrangements and away from the left-populism that serves as the ideological backdrop to the regime’s hold on power.
In a public communiqué to mark the March 10 demonstrations, the president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, Archbishop José Luis Azuaje of Maracaibo stated: “Today, March 10, the Venezuelan people have returned to the streets demanding their rights and manifesting their desire for a change of direction in the economy and the political order to permit democracy.” He went on to state that “structural changes are needed in politics, the economy and the leadership that go beyond ideological interests or to holding on to power at all costs.”
Archbishop Azuaje also underscored the incongruity of the fact that Venezuela’s armed forces, which exist to defend the people of Venezuela, are more-than-ever being deployed across the country to inhibit and undermine the civil and economic liberties of the people that the military is supposed to protect. There has long been hope that the Venezuelan military, or parts of it, would move at some point against a regime that routinely falsifies elections, engages in targeted and mass violence against its critics, has bankrupted the economy through its socialist economic policies, and which plainly intends to stay in power, no matter what the cost.
The prospect of that happening seems remote at present. Nonetheless, it’s noteworthy that the Church in Venezuela is now highlighting the discrepancy between the military’s constitutional responsibilities and what it has become—an army that is, for all intents and purposes, at war with its own people.
Will the Church’s appeal to the Venezuelan armed forces make any difference? Probably not. Too many senior officers are seriously compromised by their deep involvement in the regime and activities that, I think, are properly described as criminal. That said, the Venezuelan Church has done its job, which is to remind the military and its leaders that they will be judged, one day, for both their actions and failures to act. And it is a judgment that is unlikely to be very kind to them, whether in this world or the next.
Featured image: Wilfredor / CC0