Stop being soft on our despot, Venezuela’s bishops tell Francis

The EconomistAN UNEXPECTED item popped up on the agenda of Pope Francis in recent days. Although the meeting did not feature in his pre-announced weekly schedule, on June 8th it became known that he had squeezed in some time to confer with six bishops from Venezuela, one of the most troubled places in the historically Catholic world.

The visitors declared afterwards that they had stressed their absolute loyalty to the pontiff, and that he in turn had expressed his “full trust” in them. Neither statement is a platitude. There is massive contention over the role which the church has played and could play in halting a lurch towards civil war and humanitarian disaster in Venezuela, which is overwhelmingly Catholic.

The country’s bishops have consistently challenged abuses of human rights and democratic procedure by the regimes of the late Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro. But to many Venezuelans, the pope himself has been too willing to give Mr Maduro a free pass. Last October, for example, the Venezuelan strongman turned a meeting with Francis into a propaganda coup. To this day, Mr Maduro claims that by taking such a critical stance, the country’s bishops are out of step with their own pontiff. He blames the local prelates for the stalling of a political “dialogue” which he wants to conduct on his own self-interested terms. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

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