Maduro meets Pope as Vatican steps into Venezuela crisis

President Maduro spoke with the Pope in a private meeting on his way back to Venezuela following a tour of oil-producing nations of the Middle East.

AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File
FILE - In this July 21, 2016 file photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro stands with Spain's former Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, left, and former Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez, during a photo opportunity after a meeting at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela’s government says Pope Francis met with Maduro at the Vatican on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro met Monday with Pope Francis as the Vatican took a more active role trying to defuse a tense political standoff in the South American nation.

Maduro spoke with the Pope in a private meeting on his way back to Venezuela following a tour of oil-producing nations of the Middle East.

As news of the surprise papal meeting surfaced, back in Venezuela Monsignor Emil Paul Tscherrig, who Francis dispatched in a bid to jumpstart dialogue between the government and the opposition, announced that representatives of the two sides would meet Oct. 30 on the Venezuelan island of Margarita under the auspices of the Vatican and the Union of South American Nations.

"It's important to have light, a lamp to guide us through this tunnel of a fight that we've entered," opposition alliance chief Jesus Torrealba said prior to his meeting with the Tscherrig, the Vatican's representative to Francis' native Argentina. "We're embarking on a process of struggle that will be complex and difficult."

When Maduro arrives back to Venezuela in the coming hours he'll be stepping into a political crisis months in the making that hadn't yet erupted when he went abroad. Shortly after he left Thursday for Azerbaijan, electoral authorities suspended a recall referendum seeking his removal, prompting the opposition-controlled congress to call for demonstrations and declare that the government had carried out a coup.

The Vatican said the pope urged Maduro to courageously take the path of "sincere and constructive dialogue" to alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people, especially the poor. He called on Maduro to promote a climate of renewed social cohesion that would allow everyone to look to the future with hope, the Vatican said in a statement.

It's not clear how much influence the Vatican will have in bringing the two sides together in a country that for almost two decades has been bitterly divided.

As soon as the meeting was announced some of Maduro's most-prominent critics expressed dismay that hours after declaring itself in open rebellion and calling for a mass protest Wednesday the opposition alliance was now engaging with the government.

Meanwhile, socialist strongman Diosdado Cabello was already accusing his opponents of using the dialogue as a smoke screen to hide its intent to violently force Maduro from power.

Maduro, speaking from Rome, thanked the pope for helping bring about dialogue "between the distinct factions of the opposition and the legitimate and Bolivarian government I preside over."

Tscherrig said the talks scheduled for next week are aimed at building confidence and a mechanism for peacefully resolving disputes. As such, he said the two sides had agreed to work together so that demonstrations in the coming days are safe and peaceful.

"Today the national dialogue has begun," Tscherrig said.

The decision to halt the referendum process scuttles the opposition's best chance of peacefully removing Maduro from office before his term ends in 2019. Polls show three out of four Venezuelans want Maduro to leave office this year, blaming him for a collapse in living standards caused by triple-digit inflation and widespread food shortages.

Many of Venezuela's neighbors are also expressing concern. On Friday, 12 nations, including the U.S. and even leftist-run governments like Uruguay and Chile, issued a statement saying the referendum's suspension and travel restrictions on the opposition leadership hurt the prospect for dialogue and finding a peaceful solution to the nation's crisis.

On Monday, the presidents of Argentina and Uruguay said they would meet with the other two members of the Mercosur trade bloc — Brazil and Paraguay — to decide whether Venezuela should be expelled for breaking the group's "democratic clause." Venezuela joined Mercosur in 2012, fulfilling a long-held dream of Maduro's mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, of uniting the region's most-powerful agricultural and energy markets.

"If you read the declaration by (the Venezuelan) congress, it's more than clear that all the reasons are there to carry out the democratic clause," Argentine President Mauricio Macri told a news conference with Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Maduro meets Pope as Vatican steps into Venezuela crisis
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2016/1024/Maduro-meets-Pope-as-Vatican-steps-into-Venezuela-crisis
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe