Mérida, October 8, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)-- Venezuelan police officer Sofia Aguilar denounced the Vatican Tuesday for granting asylum to Nixon Moreno, the leader of a violent opposition student group called March 13th Movement (M13) that waged violent protests in 2006, during which Aguilar was assaulted and nearly raped, and Aguilar's police partner was left in a coma.
"The attitude of the Church is very humiliating for me... they have turned their backs on me, without even one bishop or church representative asking me what happened or giving me the benefit of the doubt," said Aguilar Tuesday. "They simply say it is a lie."
In May of 2006, the M13 attacked police officers with handguns and shotguns, leaving 26 police officers injured, to protest a Supreme Court ruling that postponed student government elections.
Aguilar said M13 members stripped, beat, and attempted to rape her with a pole during the protests. She identified Moreno as one of those who shot and beat her police partner, Gerardo Dugarte, into a coma.
Charged with attempted homicide, Moreno went into hiding at the Apostolic Nunciature (the Vatican's embassy) in Mérida following the incidents. In mid-September of this year, the Vatican granted Moreno asylum on the basis of what it called "humanitarian reasons."
In an interview with the state television station VTV Tuesday, Aguilar said, "At this point I do not want the Church to ask me about anything. They expelled me, in a way, by sheltering Moreno and listening only to him."
Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami and National Assembly President Cilia Flores protested the Vatican's decision. Flores said the decision is "sadly an assault against Venezuelan women" that shows "the immorality of the leaders of the Catholic Church."
Other national and state legislators say Moreno is not a political prisoner, but a citizen charged with severe crimes. "He should put himself before the law, assume responsibility, and allow the courts to determine his responsibility," said National Assembly (AN) Deputy Dario Vivas earlier this year.
Robert Serra, a student leader and member of the youth wing of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), said the decision makes the Vatican an "accomplice to the crime," and that it "violates the statutes of international law by granting asylum to someone who is being charged with common crimes."
Several Venezuelan women's rights groups released a joint statement asserting that the asylum runs against the ideals of the Venezuelan constitution, which was ratified by popular vote in 1999. "We have to remember that the Constitution of Venezuela has some of the greatest advances in our right to a life free of violence," said the president of the Metropolitan Women's Institute, Anahí Arismendi.
The Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister, Nicolas Maduro, stated that the government will work out the issue directly with the Vatican.
In Venezuela, top leaders of the Catholic Church are aligned with the opposition to the government led by President Hugo Chavez. For a year and a half after the 2006 violence in which Moreno was implicated, the Venezuelan Episcopal Church and the apostolic delegates let Moreno evade authorities by allowing him to stay in their facilities.
The University of the Andes (ULA), where Moreno had pushed the limits of undergraduate study to 15 years, supported Moreno by granting him a degree in Political Science despite his long absence.
Earlier this year, the ULA's outgoing rector, Lester Rodriguez, aspired to be the unified opposition's candidate for governor of the state of Merida, with Moreno running alongside him for mayor of the city of Merida. Now, Rodriguez is running for mayor, and the former governor of Merida, William Davila, is running for governor.
Opposition student groups nation-wide, with the support of the private media, continue to assert Moreno's innocence and hold that he is a political prisoner.
Prior to the 2006 violence, Moreno and other M13 members were implicated in violence committed against members of the Mérida state government during the two-day coup d'etat in April 2002. Federal Prosecutor Danilo Anderson was investigating the case when he was killed by a car bomb in 2004, and the investigation did not proceed.