Twenty former heads of state and government from Latin America have written a letter to Pope Francis finding fault with the wording of his Christmas blessing for Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Published in Spanish-language newspapers on January 6, the letter claims the Pope’s December 25 “Urbi et Orbi” blessing unintentionally minimized the oppression of Venezuelans and Nicaraguans at the hands of their governments.
The letter’s signatories, which include Nobel Peace Prize-winner and former president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias, said it was not doubted that Francis’ good faith and “pastoral spirit” was behind the message, but it “is being interpreted in a very negative way by the majority of Venezuela and Nicaragua.”
“Above all, there is currently, in these countries, a political dispute that demands understanding, tolerance between conflicting forces with different narratives within a normal or deficient democracy that today unfortunately does not exist there,” it continued.
In his blessing, Pope Francis had prayed that the Christmas season would allow Venezuela “once more to recover social harmony and enable all the members of society to work fraternally for the country’s development and to aid the most vulnerable sectors of the population.”
About Nicaragua, the pope asked that the inhabitants of the country “see themselves once more as brothers and sisters, so that divisions and discord will not prevail, but all may work to promote reconciliation and to build together the future of the country.”
The letter of the former Latin American political leaders stated concern that “the call for harmony on the part of your Holiness, given the current context, can be understood by the victimized nations that they should come to agreement with their victimizers.”
In the case of Venezuela, they added that “the government has caused the flight of 3 million refugees, which the United Nations predicts will reach 5.9 million in 2019.”
The letter gave their recognition of the pope’s deep concern for the suffering of Venezuelans and Nicaraguans and expressed their desire to meet with him “at an appropriate time.”
But Venezuelans, it said, “are victims of oppression by a militarized narco-dictatorship, which has no qualms about systematically violating the rights to life, liberty and personal integrity… and that has subjected them to widespread famine and lack of medicine.”
They also said that by the middle of the year, “there were 300 [Nicaraguans] killed and 2,500 wounded in a wave of repression.”
The letter was an initiative of the Democratic Initiative of Spain and the Americas (IDEA network), which works to promote neoliberalism, trade agreements, and public education.
The full list of signees is: Oscar Arias, Costa Rica; Nicolás Ardito Barletta, Panamá; Enrique Bolaños, Nicaragua; Alfredo Cristiani, El Salvador; Felipe Calderón, México; Rafael Ángel Calderón, Costa Rica; Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica; Fernando De la Rúa, Argentina; Vicente Fox, México; Eduardo Frei, Chile; César Gaviria T., Colombia; Osvaldo Hurtado, Ecuador; Luis Alberto Lacalle, Uruguay; Jamil Mahuad, Ecuador; Mireya Moscoso, Panamá ; Andrés Pastrana A., Colombia; Jorge Tuto Quiroga, Bolivia; Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, Costa Rica; Álvaro Uribe V., Colombia; Juan Carlos Wasmosy, Paraguay.