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November 19, 2017
Venezuela's hate crime law seeks to silence political opposition, bishops warn
The flag of Venezuela. Credit: Anyul Rivas via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
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.- The president of the Venezuelan bishops' justice and peace commission has criticized a hate crimes law passed on Thursday, charging that its aim is to silence those opposed to the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro.

The Law Against Hatred and Fascism, the Nov. 2 legislation passed by the Constituent Assembly, will be used by Maduro's government against the opposition “so we can't even speak or protest,” Emeritus Archbishop of Coro Roberto Lückert Leon told ACI Prensa.

The Constituent Assembly's president, Delcy Rodriguez, has said the law targets media that “promote hatred and racism.”

Lückert stated that news media critical of the government have been undercut by Maduro's government.

“Right now they've hamstrung  the news media. They're using the supply of newsprint to undermine us. The oldest newspaper in Coro is called La Mañana. The can't print it because they're not giving them any newsprint; on the other hand, they gave to the paper that they founded a building, machinery, and newsprint, and it comes out every day. That's freedom of the speech? No.”

According to the Maduro government “it's the opposition that's violent. But when you go to  a peaceful march to hand over documents to the prosecutor's office, you're met with the Bolivarian National Guard, the militias and pro-government thugs on motorcycles, so you can't fulfill a civic duty with a state agency. They're the violent ones,” he charged.

Archbishop Lückert stated that “as a Venezuelan, the only solution for the country that I have is elections; but elections that are transparent and fair.”

However, he said that at this time the Venezuelan people are profoundly upset by the National Electoral  Council, which “is completely sold out to the government” and which manipulated recent elections so Maduro's party would win.

“I'm really afraid that if people abstained from voting in the Oct. 15 election of governors, it's going to be worse for the election of mayors this coming Dec. 10,” Lückert said.

The prelate also said the Constituent Assembly “is an invention Maduro brought in from Cuba,” where there are no political parties or independent news media.

The Constituent Assembly is the product of contested elections, which took place in July. The body has superseded the authority of the National Assembly, Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature.

The vice president of the National Assembly, Freddy Guevara, has been accused of encouraging violence during protests. Guevara has taken refuge at the Chilean ambassador's residence in Caracas.

Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savnio of Caracas called the Constituent Assembly “fraudulent and illegitimate”  in a recent interview with El Nacional.

“It's made up of political activists at the service of the government and it's not going to resolve the problems with the economy. What's needed here is to change the Marxist, totalitarian, and statist ideology that has brought the country to ruin,” he charged.

Cardinal Urosa told El Nacional that Maduro wants to “decapitate the opposition so there's  just one political party.”

He lamented that “the situation in the country is worse than a month ago: disregard for human rights continues, there are still political prisoners and opposition leaders that won in the elections are being persecuted; childhood malnutrition has increased and diseases eradicated in the 1950s are coming back, such as  malaria, tuberculosis and diphtheria. But we've got to keep up the fight as did Bolivar, despite the defeats.”

Frustration in Venezuela has been building for years due to poor economic policies, including strict price controls coupled with high inflation rates, which have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers, and medicines.

Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

The International Monetary Fund has forecasted an inflation rate of 2,300 percent in Venezuela in 2018.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.