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Cardinal Castillo Lara Calls for the Repudiation of “the Most Detestable Government Venezuela Has Ever Had”

El Universal's Roberto Giusti interviews Cardinal Castillo Lara

Caracas, 17 July 2005 | INTERVIEW | Rosalio Castillo Lara says that the elections are “a pantomime. We are living in a dictatorship.” The cardinal invokes Article 350 of the Constitution and calls for the repudiation of "the most detestable government Venezuela has ever had," while admitting that “I am not the person best suited for determining how to do it.”

Rosalio Cardinal Castillo Lara personifies, as never before, that proverb that says “pray to God and strike the gavel.” First he says the prayer, “to ask God to free us from this flagellation.” Then direct words, without twists or ambiguities, “this is the most detestable government in Venezuelan history,” and finally action, the repudiation of the regime by way of Article 350 of the Constitution.

Quick to give an immediate response, Venezuela’s only cardinal, retired to the fields of Güiripa, but never silenced, gladly submits himself to being questioned and tells his truth with such ease as he discredits the elections being organized by the National Electoral Council as being “a sort of pantomime nobody can trust.”

Q: President Chávez said he had advised the apostolic nuncio, in reference to the document issued as part of the regular assembly of the Bishops' Conference, that the Venezuelan bishops remain disconnected from reality, a reality they do not wish to accept.

A: I fully confirm the opinion by which they do not wish to accept that reality, because I believe that most thinking Venezuelans refuse to accept this reality. That we can agree upon. Now, that opinion shows that he did not read the bishops’ message, which was very well written and articulated and rooted in a call to reconciliation, peace and harmony. But in order to arrive at that all deviations that have come about must be recognized and ought to be rectified.

Q: The call to reconciliation is no obstacle to pointing out a high number of what you call “deviations.”

A: Reconciliation cannot be turned into a superficial act and ought to be founded on the change in determined attitudes and behaviors that on balance are undemocratic and in violation of human rights.

Q: In the document the bishops denounce an “unjust legality” and warn that “if we were to pledge our loyalty no to rights and the law, but rather to a determined political project, we will have put an end to the Rule of Law.” Do you believe that there is a Rule of Law in Venezuela despite everything or has it ceased to exist?

A: Allow me to laugh because I have been saying for a long time that here there is neither democracy nor Rule of Law. What we have is a veneer of democracy. Those laws passed by a weak majority, but ultimately a majority, against the Constitution, according to which organic laws need to be passed by a qualified majority, represent neither justice nor right, but rather a means for achieving an oppressive goal. With that meaning in mind I am reminded of the psalm where Jesus reproaches those who commit injustice in the name of the law. Thus we are faced with unjust laws.

Q: You speak of “an oppressive goal.” Do we understand that term to mean a “dictatorship”?

A: Certainly. I am convinced that here we have a dictatorship. Before Chávez was elected I told President Caldera that he (Chávez) was a dangerous man, a rookie dictator. And he (Chávez), right from the start, by his way of expressing himself and acting out, made it clear that at the root of his project was the dictatorship.

Q: But there are many kinds of dictatorships in history.

A: I speak of dictatorship as being the despotic and arbitrary exercise of power concentrated in a single person.

Q: Nevertheless, the President told the nuncio that “there has never been a government in Venezuela closer to Christ the Redeemer’s command than the Bolivarian government.”

A: (Laughter). First of all, he aims toward his own goal, which is not to favor the poor but rather the concentration of power. It is clear that the neediest are not benefited by the missions because giving them a handout means keeping, perpetuating, poverty. Thus he stands on a most mistaken premise when he extols his obedience to Christ’s command. On the contrary, I believe that his is the most detestable government that Venezuela has had ever since it exists as a republic.

Q: Do you believe that the situation in which he keeps the poor, taking into account the fact that his rhetoric vindicates them, is on purpose? Is the President trying to keep people in poverty and ignorance in order to subjugate them or are we simply dealing with a problem of incompetence and inefficiency when it comes time to govern?

A: I wouldn't dare to make a judgment over one thesis or the other. The two are possible. But certainly this so-called revolution, at first veiled, then evermore openly, has leaned toward concentrating power in the President. Thus there is an attempt to eliminate all that can be an opposition in Venezuela and to maintain a situation that allows him to govern indefinitely.

Q: When you say that the President is trying to eliminate the opposition, do you include the Church in that category?

A: As soon as he disagrees with those principles, yes. Since he came to power, Chávez started trying to divide the Church hierarchy, between bishops and priests. He is trying to divide it by granting benefits to some, but only to some, under the table, while denying them to others. Only he has failed in his intent, because all the bishops, and I stress all, are united in thinking the same way. There may be diversity in expressing oneself, but as a group all are in agreement.

Q: As for that opinion you expressed about the dictatorial nature of this regime: Could it be considered the Church’s official position?

A: That I cannot say, because even though I am a cardinal, I am currently retired in the sense that I do not practice directly and I observe things from within as for being a cardinal, but without being able to speak on behalf of the Church. Perhaps it is yet too premature.

Q: Premature because at any moment would you be in a position to do so? In addition to there being unanimity, as you say, among the bishops?

A: Yes, yes. Certainly.

Q: If, according to what you say, we are already living in a dictatorship, will we have to resign ourselves to staying this way indefinitely? Will there be a people’s rebellion or is it possible to participate in the elections in order to achieve political change?

A: Your questions are highly important and it is hard for me to answer all of them because it would have to be done separately. But the attitude of Venezuelans ought to adhere to Article 350 of the Constitution. That is to say, the Venezuelan people, faithful to their republican tradition and to the struggle for peace, freedom and independence, shall repudiate (that is to say, shall consider non existent, shall not accept) any legislation, regime or authority that goes against democratic values, principles and postulates and undermines human rights. Now, the government's actions are full of all of that. We are in a dictatorship because constitutional principles have been thwarted and laws have been dodged in setting up the National Electoral Council and in naming judges to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. This has to do with serious violations that would call for repudiation.

Q: How should that repudiation be carried out?

A: I am not the person authorized, competent, to say how it should be carried out, but it would have to be done. To reject this government. To repudiate it. Of course this is difficult because the other fellow has the power and here were have but ideas.

Q: Don’t you believe that the elections might represent an effective political solution?

A: Elections ought to be a democratic vehicle for solving these situations, but that requires an institution, charged with holding the elections, one that is trustworthy and the National Electoral Council certainly is not. To the contrary, it has been fraudulent ever since it began its activity, which is in violation of the Organic Law on Suffrage. Here we stand before the expression of a false majority created for the referendum and in that sense there will be no elections, but rather a pantomime organized by the State, because who can trust a National Electoral Council such as that one?

Translation by W.K.



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