Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s denunciation of a pair of Roman Catholic bishops is the latest example of a government turning to tyranny, according to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
“Maduro’s reign of violence, repression, corruption, and bankruptcy continues to punish the Venezuelan people,” Haley said Friday.
A food crisis and the ensuing protests against the regime prompted Maduro to vitiate the power of his political opponents, including those in the national legislature. President Trump imposed economic sanctions in response. Maduro didn’t change course, and now has taken aim at Roman Catholic bishops who were critical of government corruption and food shortages.
“A devil comes in a cassock to call for violent confrontations, to call for civil war,” Maduro said Monday, according to the Catholic News Agency.
Archbishop Lopez Castillo and Bishop Victory Hugo Basabe, the two targeted by Maduro, denied calling for any violence.
“Mr. Maduro has put in my mouth words I never said,” Basabe said. “What's worse is he accuses me committing a crime while he commits one himself.”
Maduro wants the bishops charged under a hate crime law drafted by the replacement legislature his political allies established by referendum in the face of protests and boycotts.
“By targeting religious leaders – who promote peace and provide hope for believers – the regime continues to show that it cares only for preserving its own power and cares nothing about the basic human rights and welfare of its citizens,” Haley said. “We continue to stand strongly with the Venezuelan people in their battle to restore their democracy in the face of a brutal dictator.”
Basabe cited Maduro’s anger as a sign of guilt.
“I knew that my words would upset those who deep down in their consciences know they are responsible for the tragedy that this people whom I love is going through,” he said, according to CNA. “Here I am in my own church with my only weapons: my faith in Christ and the certainty that my life is in his hands. [My fate] is up to those who will not be pardoned by conscience or history.”