Roman Catholic bishops have warned that attempts at constitutional reform in Venezuela by President Hugo Chavez restrict the rights of citizens and grant too much power to the State with a "president who is re-elected indefinitely" - writes Manuel Quintero.
Archbishop Reinaldo Del Prette of Valencia, Venezuela's third largest city, reaffirmed recent statements by the country's Catholic bishops calling Chavez's constitutional reform "morally unacceptable", the Catholic News Agency reported on 31 October.
The archbishops and bishops of Venezuela issued a statement on 19 October entitled "Called to Live in Freedom" criticising proposed constitutional reforms in Venezuela which concluded that the changes were "morally unacceptable in the light of the social doctrine of the church".
Among the changes Chavez is seeking are: an extension of the presidential term from six to seven years and the elimination of the two-term limit on presidential election; having the voting age lowered from 18 to 16 years; a toughening of conditions for citizen-initiated referenda. The amendments also contemplate a significant change in the nature and role of the armed forces, to define them as a popular, patriotic and anti-imperialist body.
Archbishop Del Prette said the reforms Chavez seeks will not give Venezuelans "the country they aspire to have, and for this reason we felt obliged in conscience to express our opinion".
Earlier in October, the Archbishop of Coro, Roberto Lückert, said he wanted to see "a strong reaction from the people of Venezuela, demanding that democracy is respected". Lückert, vice-president of the Venezuela bishops' conference and a strong critic of the Chavez government, said, "The alarm bells should not only be ringing in our neighbouring countries, but Venezuelans must wake up to face the prospect of constitutional reform."
He said, "Personally I think that the reform will pass. Nobody is opposing what is being proposed and it seems that there won't be any amendments. It looks as if this issue is concerning the politicians and not the people of Venezuela as a whole. And this is not the case, for the future of our children is at stake."
Representatives from opposition parties such as Accion Democratica and Movimiento al Socialismo have also rejected the proposed changes, stating like the bishops that they would give even greater power to Chavez.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]