The pope's envoy has warned of bloodshed in Venezuela if upcoming Vatican-backed talks between the government and opposition fail. The oil-dependent country is sliding deeper into a political and economic crisis.
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli (above left) told Argentine newspaper "La Nacion" that the situation in Venezuela was "very ugly" and could lead to an outbreak in violence.
"If one delegation or the other wants to end the dialogue, it's not the pope but the Venezuelan people who will lose, because the path ahead then could truly be one of blood," Celli said after visiting the Venezuelan capital Caracas for Vatican-convened talks.
"And there are people who would not be afraid of bloodshed. That is what worries me."
The oil-rich country is suffering through a lengthy recession, with residents facing severe shortages of basic supplies like food and medicine. The opposition blames socialist President Nicolas Maduro for the crisis and has sought to call a referendum to remove him from power. Authorities blocked the referendum bid, prompting accusations Maduro had created a dictatorship in an attempt to cling to power.
Talks set for Friday
Under an agreement brokered by the Vatican and the Union of South American Nations, the government and the opposition are due to sit down for talks on November 11 aimed to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.
In a show of goodwill, the opposition this week called off a planned street protest and a symbolic "trial" of Maduro that was to be staged in the opposition-controlled Congress. The government also released a few opposition members from prison. But despite these concessions, several significant difficulties remain.
The opposition is still calling on the government to let the referendum go ahead, and to release dozens more jailed opposition activists. Maduro has given no indication he plans to meet these demands. In a speech this week he urged patience, saying "there can be no ultimatums."
There are fears that a failure to make progress at the negotiating table could lead to fresh street violence between anti-Maduro protesters and security forces.
"There is no doubt that the situation is very ugly," Celli told "La Nacion."
"Not just politically, but at a social and economic level. There is no food or medicine. It's irrefutable that the country is facing a very difficult situation."
nm/jm (Reuters, AFP)