Archbishop: Primary elections in Venezuela an opportunity ‘toward radical change’ — By: Catholic News Agency

Archbishop Ulises Gutiérrez of Ciudad Bolívar in Venezuela and second vice president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference. / Credit: CEV

ACI Prensa Staff, Oct 25, 2023 / 09:30 am (CNA).

Ulises Gutiérrez, the archbishop of Ciudad Bolívar and second vice president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, said the opposition primary elections in Venezuela on Sunday “were an opportunity to show the world” that in the country “there is a united people that wants change.”

The political leaders of various parties opposing the regime of President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela ran in the primary elections held Sunday to determine the unity candidate for the 2024 presidential elections to face Maduro if he chooses to seek another term.

The winner — by an overwhelming majority — was María Corina Machado, 56, a national coordinator of the Vente Venezuela party, which is on the center-right of the political spectrum.

However, Reuters reported in an Oct. 22 explainer on the election results that Machado is barred from public office for her support of sanctions against the Maduro government. The U.S. has pledged to put back in place sanctions it has eased if the Maduro government does not lift the ban preventing some opposition leaders from holding office, Reuters explained.

Whether this pressure succeeds remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, with the massive turnout and landslide election of Machado, Venezuelans now have “a very great opportunity to set out on the path toward radical change,” Gutiérrez told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.

The prelate considers that the result of the primary elections is so important that it could lead to “a kind of refounding of the country,” which would allow for “changing the entire current structure” and “cleaning up all the institutions and powers.”

Gutiérrez stressed that any political change in Venezuela “must necessarily occur through electoral means” and highlighted that the massive participation of citizens on election day “was very significant” and took place not only within the country but also in all places with a large Venezuelan migrant population.

“The Venezuelan people want free and transparent elections, and I believe that certain conditions are beginning to exist, either due to international pressure or internal pressure” because the people are tired of current living conditions. “I am hopeful in that sense and I believe that Venezuela is heading towards that change,” the archbishop said.

He also noted that the months up to the 2024 presidential election are a time to “convince all Venezuelans of the need to participate.” 

“Venezuelans by vocation are a civic and peaceful people,” he said.

The prelate stressed the “constant call for peace, reconciliation, and encounter” coming from the Venezuelan episcopate over recent years and declared that in this new political process there “can’t be any other way,” adding that all Venezuelans “are called to build and be architects” of a more peaceful society.

Finally, Gutiérrez called for people to feel that the vote is a right to claim. “We have to open up and not be afraid,” he stressed. 

Furthermore, he said, “we Catholics are called to also participate in the construction of the country” based on justice and peace.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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