Chavez supporters invade offices of Caracas Archdiocese

BOGOTA, Colombia – About 15 hooded supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez invaded the offices of the Archdiocese of Caracas, Venezuela, and held a news conference criticizing government opponents, including the church.

The protesters entered the offices in central Caracas just before 9 a.m. Feb. 27, demanding that the media publish a statement of their views on the church and other issues.

They threw pamphlets out the building’s windows, made announcements with a loudspeaker and did not permit employees to leave the building, Auxiliary Bishop Jesus Gonzalez de Zarate Salas of Caracas told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

Bishop Gonzalez said the protesters were not armed or violent and did not threaten employees or damage property.

“We just let time run, so that whatever happened, happened,” he said.

After about two hours, Lina Ron, a prominent Chavez supporter, arrived and held a press conference.

Ron said the church “is part of the coup to overthrow President Chavez … as a church it has sold out.”

She said the church, an opposition television station and the business confederation were “objectives of the revolution.”

Among other things, the group denounced some church leaders’ support for a 2002 coup that overthrew Chavez for 48 hours, as well as the church’s shelter of an opposition university-student leader who has lived in the papal nunciature for more than a year while seeking political asylum overseas.

After the building takeover ended, Caracas Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino denounced “this act of violence” and called on the government to “prevent an escalation of violence.”

“It is important … that these attacks against institutions and people cease. … This is very grave for the nation,” he said.

Cardinal Urosa, who was not in the building during the occupation, said when he found out about it he attempted to contact government officials, but received no response. He suggested that the government had lost control of its supporters.

This was the most recent in a series of attacks against prominent government critics. Unidentified people threw an explosive at the nunciature Feb. 14. The building was damaged, but there were no injuries. On Feb. 26 explosives were thrown at the leading business confederation, damaging the building and killing one person, reportedly the bomber.

The Catholic Church has been among the most prominent critics of the government of Chavez, questioning government policies on human rights and law enforcement and calling the administration a threat to democracy.

Chavez has criticized the church frequently and harshly.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.