by Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As anti-government protests in Venezuela turned deadly, Pope Francis called for an end to the bloodshed.
“I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, to respect human rights and to seek a negotiated solution to the grave humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis,” the pope said April 30 before reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer.
The country has descended into chaos after years of food shortages and economic turmoil under embattled President Nicolas Maduro’s government. Despite expressing a willingness to negotiate with the opposition, he has been accused of tightening his grip on power and suppressing any threat to his rule.
Protests began after March 29, when the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the country’s parliament, in which the opposition had a two-thirds majority following the 2015 elections. The unprecedented ruling transferred legislative powers to the Supreme Court, which is comprised of judges nominated by Maduro.
Although the Supreme Court restored parliament’s authority after local and international outcry, protests against Maduro’s government escalated, resulting in nearly 30 deaths as of April 29.
The pope prayed for the victims and their families and entrusted to the Virgin Mary his “prayers for peace, reconciliation and democracy to that beloved country.”
Following requests by the former leaders of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic, a Vatican delegation led by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli tried to mediate an end to the conflict.
During a news conference with journalists on the flight to Rome April 29 after his visit to Egypt, Pope Francis said that while “there is something moving forward,” negotiations are “still very much up in the air.”
“Everything that can be done for Venezuela must be done. And with the necessary guarantees. Otherwise, we are just playing ‘tintin piruelo,’ which leads nowhere,” the pope said referencing a Latin American children’s game that also means to jump from one point to another without reaching a conclusion.
“We all know the difficult situation in Venezuela, which is a country I love very much,” he told reporters traveling with him.