Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets March 10 in Caracas and other cities to demand democratic change, amid the ongoing economic, political and social crises in the country under the regime of President Nicholas Maduro.
“Today, March 10, the Venezuelan people have returned to the streets demanding their rights and manifesting their desire for a change of direction in the economy and the political order to permit democracy,” the president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, Archbishop José Luis Azuaje of Maracaibo, said in a statement
“The deterioration in the quality of life, which has led us to get by as best we can, without electricity, without water, without just compensation for our work, without gasoline, without peace, without family” has created “social instability and greater poverty,” the bishop added.
The march was led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and organized to present to the National Assembly a call for free and fair presidential elections.
As Guaidó led the marchers toward the National Assembly building, they were blocked by security forces.
Police used teargas to turn back the marchers before they reached the National Assembly. Opposition party lawmakers held an impromptu, but legally valid, outdoor session of the legislative assembly in a nearby city square.
In January 2019, Guaidó, as president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim president of the country, after president Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term, having won a contested election in which opposition candidates were barred from running or imprisoned. Guaidó and the Venezuelan bishops held Maduro's second term to be invalid, and the presidency vacant.
Much of the international community consider Maduro's re-election illegitimate. Nearly 60 nations led by the United States have recognized Guaidó as the country's acting president, but with the backing of the military, Maduro is firmly entrenched and Guaidó has no practical power other than the popular support he can muster.
The communications office of the interim president described a statement of demands passed during the impromptu legislative session, the National Conflict Statement, as “a legal instrument,” which following its passage, creates laws “to provide a response to the country's social needs.”
The document has a legal character and compliance would be obligatory should a transitional government actually be constituted.
Azuaje said that the country can't continue to go down the spiral of deterioration. Therefore “structural changes are needed in politics, the economy and the leadership that go beyond ideological interests or to holding on to power at all costs,” he pointed out.
“Hence the challenge to continue to build a citizenry that facilitates a more just and free society, which permits the promotion and protection of the dignity of the human person and encourages integral human development,” Azuaje noted.
The bishop also expressed his dismay that an unnamed member of Maduro's government called for a "countermarch," and he criticized the people "who have had to bow to official purposes for different interests."
"Sent by their superiors, the military establishment has been present on a large scale since March 9, on different streets and avenues in the cities that belong to civil society, but are blocked by those who should be the servants of the people," the bishop lamented, urging the country’s military forces "to fulfill their mission to safeguard and protect the people."
The president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference added that “we're all Venezuelans and we have to respect each other, find ways to understand each other, and meet each other as brothers.”
“Violence leads us to the destruction of what's left of the social fabric,” he stressed.
Venezuela has been torn by violence, upheaval, shortages of basic necessities and food stuffs, widespread hunger, power and water supply outages and hyperinflation under the Nicolas Maduro regime. According to the Organization of American States (OAS), the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country is expected to total 6 million by the end of the year.