The people of Venezuela delivered a huge blow to the near-hegemonic authority of Venezuelan president (and would-be dictator) Hugo Chavez in September of last year, reducing Chavez’ ruling party to less than two-thirds of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s legislature. The 165-seat National Assembly had been dominated by 139 members of Chavez’ own party, with the opposition party holding only six seats after they boycotted the previous election. With a greater than two-thirds majority, Chavez’ party was able to do mostly anything, which meant Chavez was able to do mostly anything.
But with the opposition winning 65 seats to Chavez’ 98, el presidente was about to experience a significant reduction in control.
Thus, before the new National Assembly was seated on January 4, Chavez asked the legislature to pass a number of laws, especially the Law of Empowerment. This measure gives Chavez the power to rule by decree until the middle of 2012. Chavez claimed that he needed this authority to address the recent flooding in Venezuela. After all, can’t let a good crisis go to waste.
The Catholic bishops of Venezuela objected most strenuously and pointedly in a statement released at the end of their 95th Ordinary Assembly.
According to the CNA/EWTN news article (bolding mine):
The Venezuelan bishops also criticized the outgoing assembly for passing 25 laws in less than one month. The laws, the bishops said, mostly restrict “the rights and guarantees enjoyed by Venezuelans” and also “incorporate proposals for constitutional reform that were rejected by the people in 2007.”
“The new laws have very little to do with the real problems of the country,” ["Stimulus," anyone?] the bishops charged. “In fact, the situation in Venezuela is very grave due to the incessant increase in the lack of security … the growing national debt, the immense lack of housing and the increase in the cost of living,” they added.
New laws on telecommunications and universities place limits on freedom of conscience, in order to squash dissent and bolster the government’s monopoly on the media, they continued.
Other laws undermine the constitutional authority of governors and mayors, the bishops noted.
They also denounced the unconstitutional confiscation of farms, lands and buildings as violations of the right to own property. The government cannot assume total control over the lives of its citizens “nor establish conditions to remain perpetually in power,” the bishops said, drawing their statement to a close.
If you recall, Chavez was rebuffed in a 2007 attempt to remove the constitutional barriers that would prevent him from running for president for life, among other initiatives that would have forwarded his desired socialist makeover of the largest oil producer in Latin America.
This is all rather alarming. Chavez protects FARC, the socialist terrorist organization that keeps neighboring Colombia, a strong democracy and friend of the U.S., in a perpetual state of alert. Chavez has nationalized industries at a rate that would make Obama blush. Chavez has shut down media outlets that disagree with him. The Cahtolic bishops are truly the only presence in the country with the organization and power to oppose him outside opposition political parties. But what is to prevent Chavez from nationalizing Church holdings? Arresting priests who preach on social justice and the legitimate right to own property? Arresting or otherwise restricting the abilities of bishops to tend their flock should they run afoul of his new orthodoxy?
The archbishop of the capital city, Caracas, Jorge Cardinal Urosa, addressed the opening of the 95th bishops assembly. According to the report:
He said the bishops’ conference would continue to issue moral judgments about political issues that “affect human rights,” and he lamented that the Venezuelan state has questioned “the right of the bishops and the Church to participate in the political life of the country.”
His brother bishops are standing with him, and promoting the right of Catholic charitable organizations to continue doing the incredible work they have been doing in delivering aid to the flood-ravaged countryside.
And that’s the rub. Socialism, along with all left-wing governments, cannot abide a competitor for the hearts and minds of the populous. That’s why they regimes seek to at least marginalize, if not outright suppress or co-opt the hierarchy and activities of Christian bodies, especially the Catholic Church.
So Chavez, if he is to forward his revolution, must do the same with the bishops of Venezuela. This latest brave stand by the cardinal and his episcopal brethren makes that harder.
The letter from the bishops’ meeting closed with:
“It is contrary to Christian values, human rights and common sense to destroy those who think differently or condemn them to silence.”
Brave words. We should heed them here in the U.S. also, but we are not quite staring at a would-be left-wing dictatorial regime.
Chavez is up for reelection in 2012. Let’s hope and pray that two left-wing presidents are shown the door that year.