Image credit: Alberto Rodriguez
Editor’s Note: The following testimony was sent to us by Dr. Carlos Augusto Casanova Guerra, Professor of the University of St. Thomas in Chile and signatory of the document sent by 45 Catholic scholars to the College of Cardinals concerning the possible heretical readings of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Professor Casanova is a native Venezuelan who served as a leader in the movement of universities to defend their autonomy from the government, as well as of those who strove to protect the freedom of parents to educate their own children. For this reason he received warnings and threats from Luis Miquilena, the Venezuelan Minister of Interior and Justice from 2001 to 2002, and the intelligence agency known as DISIP. After Chávez came back to power in April 13th 2002 he left the country on sabbatical, and has since lived abroad. He knows many people still living within the country, and their situation grows grim as the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis unfolds. We have asked him to give as much history and context as is needed to help those outside the region understand the plight of the Venezuelan people. Today we present his story to you as a cri de coeur. Venezuela is a Catholic country, and the Church both on the ground and abroad at the Vatican is playing an active role in what happens next.
Although the world outside hears little about it, the situation in Venezuela grows grim. There is famine and civic unrest. There is no food because the government destroyed all of our agriculture and most of our industry.
Government sympathizers are not speaking the truth when they say Venezuela is in this situation because it became too dependent on oil. This was not the case before the Communists took over, and if it is so, it is their doing, and they remain in control. They have destroyed even the refineries and the petro-chemical research centers and plants.
As a result of their genocidal policies, which remind one of similar historical circumstances in Ukraine, in China, and more recently in North Korea, the people of Venezuela are literally dying of hunger.
Recently, a person I trust very much was driving in Caracas. This person stopped at a traffic light and noticed something strange on the sidewalk. There was a woman. The person looked curiously, because it was clear that something was wrong. On the sidewalk, the woman sat down and, using her bare hands, tore open a rat she had just killed. Then she sank her teeth into the raw flesh…
Looking Back: The History of a Crisis
Venezuela was, until very recently, a Western and Catholic country. It was formed under Spanish rule, and its territory was the first of the continental Americas on which the Europeans in general and Columbus in particular set foot. After the initial shock of the conquest, the first three hundred years of its history wwere full of beautiful deeds. Sadly, the enemies of the Catholic Church and of Spain have succeeded in virtually erasing from European and U.S. history the truth of this period of time.
In the 19th century and as a result of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain and the abdication of both Carlos IV and Fernando VII, Venezuela severed itself from the old continent. The War of Independence was extremely violent, and the country lost a third of its population through bloodshed, sickness, and emigration.
At first, the republic kept most of the traditions received from Spain, but soon the Liberals and Positivists (who had immense power in Ibero-America through the Masonic Lodges) seriously disrupted those traditions. Particularly affected were our sapiential traditions at the highest levels, both academic and ecclesiastical. The Central University’s assets were confiscated, a German Positivist was imposed as rector, and the Schools of Theology and Philosophy were suppressed. The University of Los Andes was dispossessed of its holdings as well, but the professors there financed the work from their own pockets, allowing the institution to keep its freedom and autonomy. Elsewhere in the country, religious orders were suppressed, foreign friars and priests were expelled, and local religious were forbidden to wear their habits – even at home.
Masonic rule brought with it huge injustices. Following 16th-century England’s example, the Pueblos de doctrina (“towns of doctrine”) and the communities of (formerly Indian) peasants (comuneros) were divided. Very soon, the comuneros were dispossessed, and the problem of latifundium – large private estates worked by local laborers – arose.
Over time, the country convalesced from the war. Venezuela rebuilt a national army, which defeated “caudillismo” – a socio-political system led by various strongmen who arose in Latin America following the wars for independence of those nations from Spain. The officers of the Venezuelan army loved their country and sought the common good. Commerce, roadways, universities, and the civic life in general began to grow immensely.
In the 1920s, however, a new factor began to assert itself in Venezuelan politics: modern political parties and ideologies. Fatefully, Marxism and the Communist Party appeared as well. But as a countervailing force, the study of philosophy returned to the Central University, thanks in part to two Catholics: Caracciolo Parra León and Mario Briceño Iragorry.
In 1945, a revolutionary leftist political party called Acción Democrática (A.D.), with the aid of some military officers, brought down the military government. In the beginning, A.D. was a very Marxist party. Its leaders tried to impose a tyrannical system of education. The Catholic party (Copei) became its counterpart. After a tremendous confrontation, the military intervened and overthrew the rule of A.D. in 1948. The spirit of the country was still alive. The Jesuits and other religious orders at the time were doing a lot of good. Theologically, they soundly inspired the cadres of the Catholic party and the action of many unionists and politicians in all parties.
In the following decade, the military made sure that the country kept growing in all respects. But despite the limited revival at Central University, one area where the military leadership was not so successful was in the promotion of sound philosophical study. In this regard, the country had been in darkness for a long time, and the empty space filled again with dangerous ideologies. In the 1950s, Mariano Picón Salas, an influential thinker and writer of the time, nevertheless persuaded the highest leader of A.D., which was only temporarily defeated, that Marxism was an enemy of freedom and a doctrine of slavery.
And so, in 1958, when the military government of Marcos Pérez Jiménez was overthrown in a military coup with the help of civilians from A.D. and from Copei, and when A.D. again secured the government, Betancourt, the party’s leader, made sure that a republic, and not a Marxist tyranny, was formed in Venezuela. From that point on, the country had a stable electoral bipartisan regime – until Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999.
It is important to make note of the many achievements of Venezuela in the decades leading up to the Chávez regime and the return of Marxism to the national stage. Perhaps most notably, the country developed a technologically advanced oil industry. In the 1970s, all the oil companies in Venezuela were nationalized, and the public company (PDVSA) worked with admirable efficiency. (Chávez would later decimate the technical capabilities of PDVSA by firing more than 22,000 technicians and workers in a single day.) In the ’80s and ’90s in particular, Venezuelan agriculture grew considerably. Land was redistributed in such a way that the problem of latifundium was brought under control. Industry grew. The nation built hydroelectric plants and developed steel and aluminum industries. Many of the central industries providing Latin America with cars and food were located in Venezuela. National food industries arose to meet the needs of the people. Oil production was very technified, with refineries and petro-chemical plants. Even so, in 1996, oil accounted for less than 30% of the nation’s domestic gross product.
When President Caldera (1994-1999) came to power, our external debt amounted to 30 billion dollars; when he left in 1999, it was reduced to 27 billion. The country had a good system of free public health care and free education and universities, both public and private. It is therefore fair to say that until 1999, Venezuela had a classical Western structure. The autonomy of universities was respected, and the Catholic Church remained an important moral authority.
The Communists, however, never relented in their efforts, even during this period of growth and prosperity. Cuban forces landed on Venezuelan coasts. The Communist youth of the nation, among them the young Teodoro Petkoff, did their best to destabilize the country but were defeated. Venezuela even took steps to defeat Communism elsewhere in Central America and in the Caribbean. Fidel Castro, who thought the Caribbean would be a Communist Lake, saw his hopes crushed and swore revenge.
The Chávez Era
Despite these defeats for Venezuelan Marxism, we can see that Hugo Chávez did not come to power “out of the blue.” His rise was prepared by a long process of subversion of the culture, in which the Rockefeller family and the Communist powers (first the Soviet Union and later China) both played important roles. The Rockefellers, by means of a television channel, a record company, and a group of radio stations (controlled by the Cisneros family), succeeded in distorting the world of music and of public spectacles and in creating a false self-image of the Venezuelan people. The Communists succeeded in filling the universities with the basest of ideologies and, far worse, in infiltrating the Church.
One of the results of this infiltration was the destruction of the formative plan of the Catholic party. Indeed, Copei, which did not wish to become a Marxist party, largely gave up acting to prevent the evil influence of Communist clerics. Another result was a strong turmoil at the Catholic University (in which Fr. Luis Ugalde, S.J., a controversial priest and friend of the new Marxist superior general of the Jesuits, was one of the main characters), which resulted in a nullification of the doctrinal content of education at the university. When I attended my classes there (I received my law degree from Venezuela’s Catholic University), Catholic doctrine was utterly absent from our courses. My course, “Introduction to Law,” was taught by a Jesuit father who promoted Marxism much more than Christianity. Actually, he did not promote Christianity at all – may God have mercy on his soul! The result is that now, the Venezuelan Church is divided, and the new Jesuits have succeeded in lowering the cultural and military defenses of the republic against its totalitarian enemies.
Returning to Chávez, we find him to have been a cradle Communist. His brother Adán helped him infiltrate the Armed Forces as the realization of a plan devised in La Habana to take over Venezuela in the long run. His aims, according to Alberto Garrido, an expert on Chávez’s thought, included the physical extermination of the middle class. During the first year of Chávez’s government, the number of yearly homicides climbed from 4,000 to more than 9,000 – a figure that has grown steadily since then. Today, we have almost 30,000 corpses entering the morgue each year as a result of homicide. (This figure does not include executions of people who are buried in mass graves.) The government uses the common criminals as “low-intensity revolutionaries.” Many of the victims are enemies of the regime, priests who have any connection to the armed forces, and any agricultural entrepreneur or peasant who does not submit to the tyranny’s policies – that is to say, who tries to keep producing efficiently. The government compulsorily expropriated the productive land.
The revolutionary wave completely washed away the Catholic party, Copei. A.D. has survived, but the real leaders who love the country and have the courage of their convictions have left the party and been forced into exile, thrown into prison, or killed. Antonio Ledezma is one of these real leaders; he left the party in 2000 and was imprisoned in 2015.
In place of the traditional parties, others arose. One of them is Primero de Justicia, the party of Julio Borges, the current president of the National Assembly, and Henrique Capriles Radonsky. This party came to an understanding with the government in 2006 and has served the regime by creating the illusion that there is significant democratic opposition in Venezuela.
Chávez at first tried to ignore the autonomy of universities, but he came into an immense conflict with them due to the brave resistance of professors and students. He then switched tactics, choosing instead to strangle the universities slowly by killing many of the resistance leaders while reducing education budgets to the point of ruin.
Chávez also attacked the freedom of the press. He destroyed the republic by proclaiming that the ”Original Constituent Power” was above the Constitution, placing himself in fact above all republican powers. He adulterated the Registry of Electors so that to know his real popularity after 1999 became virtually impossible. Only at the end of 2005 were we given a clear indicator: there was an election for the Congress, and some weeks before it, the opposition leaders (at the time, there were real opposition leaders) withdrew because there were no guarantees of a fair, honest election. On this occasion, voter turnout – according to initial official figures – was only 12%. This despite threats that whoever did not go to vote would be fired from pubic office or lose any contracts with the government. Thirty percent of those votes were null – this despite the fact that many people thought their vote was not secret.
The regime also brought in thousands of Cuban agents and gave them control over the country’s secret service and espionage services. Chávez was an utter traitor. He expected to be Fidel’s successor, but Fidel’s brother Raúl was a serious obstacle. Also vice versa: Raúl expected to succeed Fidel, but Hugo was a serious obstacle.
The official story of Chávez’s death indicates that he died of cancer in Venezuela after two trips to Cuba for treatment. Many Venezuelans, however, think Raúl Castro had Chávez killed, and all are certain that Chávez did not die on the 60th anniversary of Josef Stalin’s death, but in fact much earlier, in December 2012. Some believe that only his corpse returned home from his last visit for treatment in Havana; others, that he is buried in Cuba and what was sent home was a casket holding a decoy made of wax. The circumstances of both his death and the disease that led to it remain mysterious and provoke many questions. It is known that the Cuban, Russian, and Chinese governments have a strong presence in Venezuela. There are also groups of Arabs, along with FARC, the Colombian guerrilla movement.
The Rise of Nicolás Maduro
So the groundwork was laid for the current domination of Raúl Castro over Venezuela. Right before the death of Chávez, Havana decided that Chávez’s replacement should be Nicolás Maduro – a man about whom little was known, born in Colombia. He became de facto president in December 2012 and then won a dirty election to continue his reign. There was a considerable reaction from the Venezuelan people. Used to life in a Western country, they rejected the totalitarian tyranny of the Communists. But their liberation has met with considerable obstacles.
The Communists are experts in one important thing: controlling power. They infiltrate everything, going so far as to create and control their own opposition. So it has come to pass that after fifteen years of Communist rule in Venezuela, many of the so-called “opposition” leaders are complicit with the government. One of these is Julio Borges, associated with the Mendoza family (a family with commercial and industrial interests, who, by establishing agreements with the government, tries to protect those interests); another is Fr. Luis Ugalde, S.J., who, as we have said, is a revolutionary but plays the role of adviser to the anti-communist opposition, as is expected of a priest. The real opposition leaders, if they become dangerous, are imprisoned, killed, or forced into exile.
At the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, Leopoldo López, an opposition leader who previously avoided making waves with the government, changed his attitude and decided to strive for his country’s common good. With the help of other opposition leaders – namely, Antonio Ledezma and María Corina Machado – López succeeded in leading the people to an effective rebellion called “La Salida” (The Exit), which appeared poised to bring down Cuba’s domination over Venezuela. The Venezuela Catholic bishops’ conference approved of this rebellion because, according to them, “the main cause of the current crisis [in 2014] is the attempt of the official party and of the authorities of Venezuela to impose the so called ‘Outline of the Fatherland’, behind which hides the promotion of a governmental system of totalitarian character” (see their document of April 2, 2014 here).
The Role of the Vatican, and the Analysis of Pablo Medina
But when all seemed to be lost for the government, two significant characters intervened: no less than Pope Francis and Michel Bachelet, the president of Chile. They promoted the so-called “Mesa de Diálogo” (“Dialogue Table”), which gave a most welcome respite to the government and allowed it to throw Leopoldo López into prison and secure power. In the opening meeting of that infamous “Mesa de Diálogo,” on April 11 (9 days after the bishops’ statement!), Francis, through the apostolic nuncio in Venezuela, expressed his sympathy for the Maduro government, saying it was searching for the “common good,” and held that any form of force (even against a tyranny) is illegitimate. Dialogue, he said, is always a moral duty.
At the end of 2015, the people of Venezuela had again turned on their government, but again, the “Dialogue Table” created by the influence of the Vatican led to the dissolution of the protests, as in 2014. The process repeated the following year. This part of the story is best told via excerpts from an interview with the unionist and political leader Pablo Medina, given to El Venezolano TV on the program Aló Buenas Noches on May 22, 2017.
Medina is first asked to talk about what is happening right now in Venezuela: “We want you to talk to us about the National Guard, the snipers, the bazookas…these people are preparing themselves. What for?”
Medina: I think it is important to define accurately what is going on, because the big international press has succeeded in establishing a sort of thesis according to which there is a civil war in Venezuela. But, in my opinion, there is no civil war. In a civil war, one finds 50% of the population in arms against the other 50%. That is not what is going on in Venezuela. Something else is happening in Venezuela. In the light of what is happening, we should not be able to call what Maduro … [is] doing a “dictatorship.” Not even a military dictatorship, one of those classical dictatorships that we had on this continent, also in Venezuela. Because those dictatorships at least built things, those were dictatorships that built countries, unlike this sort of swill we have.
What is it that we have in Venezuela? In Venezuela, what we really have is a group of lackeys. What we have here is a non-declared international conflict. We have a regime, an invasion, that has grown roots in our country and wants now to consolidate itself definitely through the Constituent Assembly. Thus, 90% of Venezuelans are confronting an invasion.
This invasion [by Cuba] has international support. That is what happened in 2016 when we had the regime against the corner. When the government got a spanking in the National Assembly elections in December 2015, the Cuban government commanded that no more elections be held in Venezuela. And there have been no new elections. All elections have been canceled: the governors’ elections, the unions’ elections, the university elections, and even the elections of beauty queens.
During 2016, the grave political and economic crisis kept the people in tension. There were occasional outbursts of protest, but again and again, the mirage of the “Dialogue Table” – created at the insistence of the Vatican – allowed the government to dismantle resistance with the support of “opposition” leaders who had a seat. In the meantime, as Pablo Medina says, Maduro was able to secure the military’s grip on the situation.
The other side of the table, the docile opposition leaders, saw how their popular support was eroding. They were forced to finally give way to the wrath of the people. In December 2016, an important Catholic Venezuelan intellectual, Alberto Arteaga, voiced his deep concern for the incongruity created by the Vatican when it failed to demand that the government demonstrate clear respect for the most elementary rights of the Venezuelan people. In January 2017, the apostolic nuncio again insisted on the same course of action, proving that Arteaga’s concerns had fallen on deaf ears.
And now the people have fallen into desperation. They are unwilling to stop the protesting until at least their most basic rights are secured. But the people have been met with brutal repression led by an army of occupation.
What is happening in Venezuela is not a civil war. It is not even a dictatorship. What is it, then?
Medina goes on:
A disarmed people is confronting a foreign invasion. … A global “geopolitical game” has been organized, with the Cuban government, of course, as one of its parties, the Socialist International, the Vatican, Obama and the lackeys of the American continent (Samper, Fernández, and others), with the goal of imposing Maduro upon us. Right when we had him against the corner because of his nationality (He is not Venezuelan; he was born in Colombia. Since 1830, when the republic was created, to this date, he is the only foreign man who has been president.), he was imposed upon us by an international plot… [that is,] the “dialogue table.” …
The dialogue table was imposed upon us. What happened with that? Those parties gave time to this narco-tyranny to recover. The National Guard, which at the time had 30,000 men, came to have 70,000. Where did the 40,000 new men come from? The worst criminals, assassins with many killings[.]
In particular, currently, this tyranny and the occupation army are trying to consolidate themselves through the Constituent Assembly. This Assembly is just a tyrannical device typical of the Communists and of all tyrants, who do not really want to consult the people, because they know that the people who have experienced the consequences of the tyranny hate them.
Pablo Medina continues:
There are no elections. That is why it is very peculiar that, while all sorts of elections are canceled in Venezuela, they want to organize an election in two degrees (an indirect election) for a dictatorial Constitutional Assembly of Mussolini’s kind. Today (May 22), the Supreme Court canceled the direct elections. This way, the Court makes [it] easy for him [Maduro] to have a Constituent Assembly with 500 members, of which Maduro, that lackey [of the foreign powers that control Venezuela], will have beforehand 250. That way you can see the nature of this Assembly. Even the general public prosecutor declared that that is illegal.
Note well, my dear reader: since 2014, the Vatican diplomacy has been an important factor, through the “Dialogue Table,” in the survival of the Communist tyranny in Venezuela – and this when the Venezuelan bishops have declared repeatedly that we are faced with a tyranny and have suffered serious persecution. The people have become confused because the Venezuelan pastors have remained at their side, but the Vatican officials have actually saved the tyranny at least twice. Right now, their diplomacy seems to be taking the same turn: to impose upon us a fake “dialogue” with an indifferent tyranny and a foreign army.
We see a sharp division in the Church. On the one hand, one can see the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts along with Jesuits like Luis Ugalde, who consider the government to be fulfilling the role of “well-meaning but incompetent doctors” with whom one can dialogue. On the other hand, there are the bishops and priests who understand the situation and who side with the people even when they are persecuted for doing so.
The confusion created by the international press concerning the nature of Venezuela’s current conflict has found a basis in the image the Jesuits – Fr. Luis Ugalde in particular – have managed to create.
As much can be seen from Luis Ugalde’s recent interview, published by the BBC. There he states that Maduro was elected democratically in 2013, which is a falsity. He goes on to say that only after his election has Maduro become a “dictator” (instead of a tyrant) – as if the problem consisted only in recovering a democracy that has been recently lost. Ugalde hides the totalitarian nature of the tyranny, the destruction of the free press, the falsification of the registry of electors, and so on. But he also hides the foreign invasion of the country and the huge humanitarian crisis. Finally, he tries to blame the current economic crisis on 20th-century Venezuela’s inability to produce anything but oil.
Fr. Ugalde’s interview is outrageous. He seeks to blame the victim. In light of this, one asks: What is it about the psychology of these anti-Church priests that allows their conscience to betray the mass of Venezuelans, who have honored them and loved them for decades? How can they be ready to support a regime that is physically killing all those who trust in these priests? Whence comes such hatred of Christians and fellow human beings?
I want to finish by telling the world what is perhaps the most important aspect of the current crisis in Venezuela. One could ask: Why are the people so desperately trying to overthrow this tyranny? Why do they not cease to protest on the streets despite the consequences they face? The answer is simple: the people are tireless because the people are desperate. There is real famine in Venezuela. Many are dying of hunger. There is no food because the government destroyed all our agriculture and most of our industry. Fr. Luis Ugalde is wrong (or lies) when he says that in Venezuela, there was no production but oil. This is true now, but it is the Communists’ doing.
In the light of the humanitarian crisis, the attack against the physical existence of a Catholic people, I finish by formulating a plea to Pope Francis: please, Holy Father, if you are to intervene in Venezuela, do so to make sure that the genocide of a Catholic people stops. The life and the Faith of the Catholic people should not be subject to “dialogue.” Cease giving time to a band of genocidal Communists and a foreign army who would just exterminate the bodies of all those Venezuelans who do not submit to the extermination of their souls by atheist blasphemy!
POSTSCRIPT – After I had written this piece, I was made aware of the letter Francis wrote to the bishops of Venezuela on June 5, and I learned about the urgent meeting that has been called in Rome for June 8. In his letter, Francis says two deeply troubling things that show that, for whatever reason, he does not understand the situation of the country. Indeed, he said that he is deeply troubled
“because of the confrontations and the violence of these days [of demonstrations] which have caused many deaths and wounds and which do not help to solve the problems but only provoke more suffering and pain[.]”
I thank you for your constant calling to avoid any form of violence, and to respect the rights of the citizens and to defend the human dignity and the fundamental rights, because, the same as you, I am persuaded that the grave problems of Venezuela can be solved if there is the will to build bridges, of dialoguing seriously and to fulfill the reached agreements.
I address the following comments to Pope Francis:
Totalitarian movements use dialogue just as an excuse to disarm the adversary, and only when they feel weak. Nazi Germany held dialogues with England and France just to have time to consolidate its power in the Ruhr, in Czechoslovakia, and in Austria. Once Hitler felt strong, he did not dialogue. The Communists in Venezuela do the same. Please, do not distract the bishops from fulfilling their duty as pastors. The people of Venezuela have the right to legitimate self-defense.
Not every use of force is violence. When you have a gang of foreign genocidal maniacs trying to starve a people to death, any failure to use all the force that can be mustered to prevent that gang from killing more people is itself a terrible form of violence. If you use a spiritual authority that is holy to persuade a people not to defend itself, then you are inciting a very evil form of violence, perhaps without realizing it, just by the failure to rightly assess the situation.
I really hope that the great bishops of Venezuela understand their duty before Jesus Christ and stick to it, no matter what authority tries to interfere. And I hope they are able to persuade Pope Francis about the right course of action so he can emulate Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who were always great protectors of the Venezuelan people and their freedom.
 I have made an effort to summarize this period of time in my book El republicanismo español en América. Una evaluación (https://archivos.juridicas.unam.mx /www/bjv/libros/8/3979/5.pdf). I examine there, among other things, the treatment of Indians and of black slaves.
 This family is originally from Cuba, but its members migrated to Venezuela in the 20th century. Now they own DIRECTV and Playboy Television.
 There was a fortunate exception if one had a good professor for the small course on Canon Law.
 Francisco Olivares, a Venezuelan research journalist, has written about the government’s handing in of Venezuelan passports to international terrorists. On the presence of FARC in Venezuela, see a report by this same journalist here.
 I feel I must mention here Alejandro Peña Esclusa, whose early warnings were ignored and despised by all those who could have saved the republic.
 I want to warn the Venezuelan people that although Pablo Medina tells the truth in this interview, he should not be trusted as a leader. He has been a Communist, and therefore, he could be a double agent.