Catholic Church Accuses Nicolas Maduro of Brutally Repressing Protesters

Nicolas Maduro

Nicolas Maduro / AP

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Venezuela’s Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday assailed President Nicolas Maduro for governing in a totalitarian way and brutally repressing protesters, Reuters reports.

Bishop Diego Padron, leader of Venezuela’s conference of bishops, said Maduro was further implementing “the fatherland plan” of former longtime strongman Hugo Chavez:

“Within it they are hiding the promotion of a totalitarian-style system of government, putting in doubt its democratic credentials,” he said, reading a church communiqué.

Though defending students’ and others’ right to protest, the Church condemned both the demonstrators’ tactic of barricading roads and the state’s “brutal repression” of dissidence.

The bishop’s comments could revive long-standing church-state tensions in Venezuela:

Chavez for years painted Venezuela’s Catholic hierarchy as being in league with his foes among the nation’s political elite, and was furious at their endorsement of a brief-lived coup against him. Chavez died last year.

Until Wednesday, Venezuela’s church had kept a relatively low profile over the recent unrest, and both sides had been mooting the possibility of mediation by a Vatican official.

Nearly 40 people have died in protests against Maduro’s rule, which demonstrators blame on a crack down by state security forces and pro-government militias.