The presidency of the Venezuelan bishops' conference warned Wednesday that the disputed election of Luis Parra as president of the National Assembly is "contrary to all constitutional legality."
Parra was elected head of Venezuela's de jure legislature Jan. 5 by pro-government lawmakers, while opposition legislators were blocked from entering the chamber. It is the latest in a crisis over the government of Venezuela.
Under the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment, blackouts, and hyperinflation. Some 4.5 million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.
The Venezuelan bishops' presidency said Jan. 8 that Parra's election was "a shameful event" that "has replanted in the souls of Venezuelans reasons for hopelessness and a greater sense of helplessness."
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó and 100 other opposition legislators were blocked Jan. 5 by Venezuelan National Guard troops from attending a vote in the legislature, where Guaidó was standing for re-election as its leader. Parra was elected instead, without a quorum, by pro-government lawmakers and some opposition politicians. Parra had been expelled last month from the Justice First party over alleged corruption.
Telesur, a state television network in Venezuela, said Parra was elected with 140 votes. The National Assembly has 167 seats.
Guaidó had declared himself interim president of Venezuela in January 2019, after president Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term, having won a contested election in which oppositon candidates were barred from running or imprisoned. Guaidó and the Venezuelan bishops held Maduro's second term to be invalid, and the presidency vacant.
He said that according to the Venezuelan constitution, when the presidency falls vacant, power is assumed by the president of the National Assembly.
On Jan. 5, Guaidó and opposition legislators held their session of the National Assembly at the headquarters of El Nacional, a Caracas daily. At that session, Guaidó was re-elected president of the legislature by about 100 lawmakers.
Then on Jan. 7, Guaidó and 100 of his fellow opposition lawmakers accessed the National Assembly only after a half-hour stand-off with National Guardsmen who had cordoned the building. Pro-government legislators left when the opposition entered, and power to the building was cut.
Venezuela's bishops said that the events of Jan. 7 were "a new abuse of power ... which implies a hijacking of more than one democratic institution."
They indicated that the recent events are "a new manifestation of the totalitarian ideology of those who hold political power. They have promoted and protected the lack of autonomy of the legitimate National Assembly; and, at the same time, they intend to recognize a directive chosen irritably against all constitutional legality ”.
The bishops urged members of the armed forces to place themselves “on the true side of the Constitution and of the people to which they belong and swore to defend."
Archbishop José Luis Azuaje Ayala of Maracaibo, president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, said Jan. 7 that Parra's election as speaker was an “invalid appointment” which pro-government lawmakers had done by “violating all norms of the assembly.”
Archbishop Azuaje's statement was read at the opening of the Venezuelan bishops' plenary assembly.
He said that because Parra's National Assembly presidency is invalid, “it will be the responsibility of the true leadership elected by vote and according the norms of the National Assembly, to continue to examine deeply how to resolve the main problems afflicting the people.”
Archbishop Azuaje asked citizens to be aware because what is behind the crisis the country is undergoing is “power, as it is conceived and put into practice. Today, power as dominion is gaining ground against the truth.”
He called for “a new history based on the common good and on freedom.”
The opposition gained control of the National Assembly in a December 2016 election, and in 2017 Maduro formed a pro-government legislature, the Constituent Assembly, to supersede it. The Venezuelan bishops do not recognize the Constituent Assembly as legitimate or valid.
In 2018, Venezuela's annual inflation rate was 1.3 million percent; late in 2019, the IMF forecast an inflation rate of 10 million percent for that year.