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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07CARACAS2089 2007-10-26 20:50:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Caracas
Cable title:  

BRV AND CATHOLIC CHURCH AT ODDS OVER CHAVEZ'

Tags:   PGOV PHUM KDEM VE 
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1. (C) Summary. The Venezuelan Catholic Conference of
Bishop's recently-released document entitled "Called to Live
in Liberty" strongly criticizes President Chavez' proposed
constitutional changes. The bishops call Chavez' efforts to
construct a "socialist state" discriminatory,
anti-democratic, and "morally unacceptable," but do not
explicitly urge parishioners to vote against the reform
package in the early December referendum. President Chavez
and other senior Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (BRV)
officials have lashed out with personal attacks on the
bishops without responding to the substance of their
criticism. Opposition strategists welcomed the bishops'
message and are helping disseminate it among a voting
population that is nominally 90 percent Catholic. Opposition
leaders also note, however, that the bishops' influence over
the largely secularized Venezuelan population is limited.
End Summary.



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Catholic Church: Proposed Reform "Morally Unacceptable"


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2. (SBU) The Venezuelan Catholic Conference of Bishops (CEV)
issued October 19 a three-page "exhortation" to Catholic
voters that categorically rejects President Chavez' proposed
changes to 1999 Constitution (Reftel). Specifically, the
bishops argue that Chavez' proposed constitutional changes
concentrate more power in the hands of the president and
"favor authoritarianism." They also note that the concept of
a "socialist state" excludes opposition sectors, foments
societal polarization, and runs contrary to the democratic
principles of the existing Constitution. Most significantly,
the bishops state that they consider Chavez' constitutional
package "morally unacceptable in light of the Social Doctrine
of the (Catholic) Church."



3. (SBU) The Catholic bishops stopped short of explicitly
counseling parishioners to vote against the constitutional
changes in the early December referendum. Instead, they
invoked the "Holy Spirit" to assist Venezuelans in "this
difficult decision." The bishops also reiterated their call
for "dialogue and reconciliation" among Venezuelans, a theme
that they had last stressed in their July 7 pastoral letter.
A number of contacts tell us that parish priests have already
been drawing on the bishop's "exhortation" during the Sunday
homilies.



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BRV: Bishops "An Embarrassment"


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4. (U) President Chavez responded quickly to the Bishops'
criticism, conveying his criticism via telephone during an
October 21 talk show program on government-run VTV. Chavez
said Venezuela's Catholic Church leaders are "morally
unacceptable for our people, our church, for Catholics, for
Christians - the bishops we have embarrass us." Without
addressing the substance of the bishops' criticisms, Chavez
specifically accused the Church leaders of lying to their
parishioners about his proposed constitutional package and
aligning themselves with coup-plotting. Similarly, Foreign
Minister Nicolas Maduro told the local media on October 23
that the bishops "do not represent Catholics" and predicted
they would be confronted with a "moral cataclysm" for taking
a position "contrary to the national majority."



5. (U) Information Minister William Lara also told the media
that the bishops should remove their Church robes when making
pronouncements on political issues. Caracas Cardinal Jorge
Urosa responded in the media that Church leaders should be
non-partisan, but stressed that this does not mean they
should be "indifferent" to social issues. Lara retorted
October 24 by telling reporters that Cardinal Urosa is not
impartial but on "the first line of attack against
constitutional reform." He accused Urosa of "representing
the interests of the rancid, discredited oligarchy."



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Comment


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CARACAS 00002089 002.2 OF 002




6. (C) The BRV is particularly sensitive to the bishops'
criticism because the Catholic Church still enjoys
considerable credibility among Venezuelans and has a
nation-wide presence, including in pro-Chavez strongholds.
BRV officials continue to try to discredit Catholic leaders
as out of touch with their flocks. They also continue
inviting pro-Chavez clergy members to government events to
try to blunt the bishop's message. Opposition strategists
are pleased with the Church's activism and are helping give
the bishops' October 19 "exhortation" wider dissemination.
At the same time, they note that although some 90 percent of
Venezuelans are nominally Catholic, most Venezuelans do not
regularly go to church and are not easily led by Church
guidance. The bishops notably ducked the tactical issue that
plagues the opposition: whether or not to participate or
abstain in the early December referendum.

FRENCH