Venezuela’s Catholic Church on Friday blasted President Nicolás Maduro for trying to impose a “dictatorship” by pushing forward an unpopular plan to overhaul the constitution.
Speaking at a public event, Archbishop Diego Padron, the president of Venezuela’s Episcopal Conference, said the government’s decision to elect more than 500 delegates on July 30 to rewrite the constitution is illegitimate.
“The Episcopal Conference has deemed that the national assembly of constituents is unnecessary and inconvenient,” Padron said. The assembly is “being imposed by force and the result will be the [formalization] of a military, socialist, Marxist and communist dictatorship.”
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Padron said that, by law, the government couldn’t call for the constitutional assembly without first holding a national referendum — a vote that polls show the government would lose.
The Catholic Church and the socialist administration have been at odds for years, but this is some of the harshest rhetoric yet to come from the religious institution.
The statement comes as more than three months of anti-government protests have left more than 90 dead and hundreds detained. Demonstrators are asking for general elections and the release of political prisoners amid a crushing economic crisis. Maduro has said the constitutional assembly will bring peace to the troubled South American nation. But critics say that the way the delegates will be selected means the administration will be able to pack the body with its supporters.
On Wednesday, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress approved a July 16 referendum that will allow the country to decide whether it wants the constitutional assembly. But that measure doesn’t have the support of the National Electoral Council, meaning it will be largely symbolic.
It was during that contentious congressional session Wednesday that pro-government agitators broke into the legislative compound and injured several lawmakers.
Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter: @jimwyss