Venezuelan Cardinal and National Assembly Dialogue over Recent Spat

Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino met with National Assembly officials on Tuesday to talk through a recent exchange of angry public declarations that brought the issue of the separation of church and state into the national spotlight.

Mérida, July 28th 2010 ( – Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino met with National Assembly officials on Tuesday to talk through a recent exchange of angry public declarations that brought the issue of the separation of church and state into the national spotlight.

In early July, Urosa said the Venezuelan government was headed toward a “Marxist dictatorship” and that the National Assembly had passed laws that violate the national constitution. President Hugo Chavez and other government officials responded that the cardinal was overstepping the Church’s role in a secular state, and accused the cardinal of violating Christian principles by aligning himself with the rich.

Tuesday’s closed-door meeting lasted for more than five hours and included the cardinal as well as National Assembly President Cilia Flores and the heads of the permanent legislative commissions, who are from the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

The mood was cheerful as the cardinal and the legislators exited the meeting. In interviews with the press, they expressed satisfaction with the dialogue that occurred.

Flores said the meeting was “cordial and was carried out in an environment of sincerity,” while the cardinal described it as “serene, respectful, friendly, cordial, and with great frankness.”

“We can mark as a positive outcome of this meeting that the cardinal assured his respect for the institutions [of the state] and the investiture of the president of the Republic, Hugo Chavez,” said Flores, adding that Urosa had also recognized the positive achievements of the government’s social programs.

Urosa read a document during the meeting outlining his criticisms of the government. He said the National Assembly’s recent changes to laws regarding education, the armed forces, decentralization, the newly created Federal Council of Government, consumer protection, electoral processes, and collectively-run communes violate the National Constitution.

“These laws affect political pluralism, fundamental for democratic life, because they incorporate the socialist conception,” said the cardinal. “They go along the line of giving more power to the Presidency, to the detriment of the capacities and the power of the people,” he added, specifying that Venezuela is being led toward “a totalitarian socialist Marxist state.”

“I have expressed my opinions in an exercise of the legitimate right to criticize the actions of functionaries in affairs of a public nature,” said Urosa, adding, “I am not a spokesperson of any political partiality.”

Flores said she had promised to send the cardinal copies of the laws and law reforms with explanations of the motives behind the laws and the benefits they bring to the country.

Legislator Earle Herrera from the Commission on the Environment and Natural Resources said the cardinal “did not submit any proof that demonstrated the unconstitutionality of the laws he pointed out. Neither did he explain in what sense the president of the Republic violates the National Constitution or in what form he is leading the country toward a totalitarian regime.”

Legislator Ulises Daal from the Commission on Citizen Participation thanked Urosa for his input and defended the laws. He said the laws “deny up front the possibility of constructing a country oriented by neoliberalism, a concept that violates the constitution,” and they “establish the protagonist participation of the people in all areas of the dynamic of society.”

Daal affirmed that Urosa’s ideas are compatible with those of the Chavez government. “The elements that [the cardinal] proposes as his conception of government correspond to and do not enter into contradiction with the socialist proposal that the Bolivarian government has implemented, basing itself in the National Constitution,” said Daal.

The constitution was drafted by an elected constituent assembly following a national referendum on whether to write a new constitution, then the final version was passed overwhelmingly in a nation-wide vote in 1999.

Daal concluded that the meeting was overall positive. “During the meeting we could listen to his points and, independent of not agreeing with them, it permitted us to dispel doubts about situations of national character in which the Church is involved,” he said.

The National Assembly previously invited Urosa to address the issue shortly after the exchange of declarations occurred in early July, but the cardinal declined the invitation, citing a lack of “conditions of serenity necessary for a fruitful dialogue.”

Chavez and his supporters have criticized Urosa and the influential Venezuelan Episcopal Conference for declaring their support for the military coup d’état that temporarily ousted the democratically elected president in 2002 and installed a government led by business elites who dissolved the constitution.