— Rome — “Venezuela is a disaster,” said a senior Vatican diplomat to journalists on a Roman side street Thursday.
It was an unusually frank assessment from the senior official, who requested we not attribute his remarks because he was not authorized to speak on the delicate subject.
The troubled Latin American nation of Venezuela has been in the throes of political and economic crisis for years. 90% of people live below the poverty line and basic necessities are in chonically short supply when they are available at all.
The United States has imposed increasingly severe economic santions on the country, especially after Venezuela’s strongman leader, Nicolás Maduro, began cracking down on political opponents and curtailing democratic institutions.
Those US sanctions have contributed to shortages in basic necessities, but supplies were already chronically short and hyperinflation was already crippling the country.
Maduro’s government has been accused of serious human rights violations, including thousands of extrajudicial executions. The Organization of American States declared his presidency illegitimate in January 2019,
Maduro — who continued and doubled down on disastrous policies put in place by his populist predecessor, Hugo Chavez — eventually rolled back some of the economic policies that began under previous leadership, and has recently expressed interest in improving relations with the United States.
“It’s tough to talk about Venezuela,” the Vatican official said, “because we would have to criticize the government.”
To do so openly would potentially put Catholics – especially religious women – at serious risk of reprisal, at a time when it is estimated that eight in ten people in Venezuela rely on the Church for food assistance and basic medicines.
“One is afraid to talk about it,” the diplomat said, “also because of the repercussions for [the people].”