Vatican City — Negotiations between government and opposition groups in Venezuela, followed by free and fair elections, are needed to put an end to violence and bring relief to the suffering people, a Vatican official said.
In a letter June 13 to six former Latin American heads of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the Holy See continues to follow Pope Francis' directives and is "trying to help find a solution to the current serious difficulties."
"The Holy See continues to consider that a serious and sincere negotiation between the parties, based on very clear conditions, beginning with the celebration of constitutionally scheduled elections, can solve the serious situation in Venezuela and the suffering to which the population is subjected," said Parolin's letter.
The Vatican did not release the cardinal's letter, but it was posted on the blog Sismografo.
Francis had met June 8 with the leadership of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, which requested the meeting as the country's political and economic crisis became increasingly violent. Since April, anti-government protests have led to the death of some 70 people, both government and opposition supporters.
Parolin's letter came one day after the pope received a letter from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The letter was posted on Twitter June 12 by the Venezuelan government's press secretary, Ernesto Villegas Poljak.
Although his government's violent tactics against protesters have been denounced by the Catholic Church in Venezuela, Maduro has tried to claim he had the support of Pope Francis.
In his letter, Maduro defended the government's handling of the protests, claiming that the violence was caused by an "extreme right-wing" opposition that was "increasingly smaller and, therefore, more and more insane."
"The forces of darkness have carried out all kinds of vandalism under the sign of the most abject and brutal terrorism, trying to impose a climate of widespread violence on Venezuela," he said.
Maduro's accusations contradict statements by Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, who told Vatican Radio that "the repression" exercised by Maduro's government "has been increasingly cruel."
In addition to official security forces, there are pro-government, armed civilian groups, "which is absolutely criminal, so that the situation is extremely serious and that is why we are here," he said at the Vatican June 7.
However, the Venezuelan president said his government's crackdown against protesters was justified following the death of a 17-year-old boy.
Citing Francis' own words in his letter, Maduro said children should not "be robbed of joy," and he was certain the pope's "active and guiding counsel would open a new stage in national dialogue."
Asking for the pope's blessing, Maduro said he would follow the example of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez in dealing with the opposition.
"There are those who have diverted toward the field of destabilization, terrorism and coup. My task is to bring them toward the field of the constitution and political debate. In this, I am rigorously following the example of Commander Chavez," Maduro said.