Diplomacy and dialogue: Pope Francis’ strategy in the face of the crises in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba

Pope Francis has appealed to diplomacy and dialogue to deal with the crises in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba (Tiziana Fabi/pool via Reuters)
Pope Francis has appealed to diplomacy and dialogue to deal with the crises in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba (Tiziana Fabi/pool via Reuters) (Pool/)

a week before Jorge bergoglio would become the Pope Franciscoin Venezuela the president died Hugo Chavez. A fact that marked a before and after not only in the Caribbean country, but also in the entire region. By strict order of the “Commander”, power was left in the hands of his then chancellor, Nicolas Maduro. What followed in these ten years is known history: electoral fraud, repression, persecution, human rights violations, and a Venezuela plunged into an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

In a predominantly Catholic region, and expectant by the fact of having in Francisco to the first Latin American Pope, the Supreme Pontiff faced this crisis through dialogue and diplomacy. He believes that he had supporters, but also critics, who demanded – and continue to demand – a tougher position against the Chavista regime.

The same happened – and is happening – with the serious situations that are being experienced in Nicaragua and Cuba.

The Argentine Bishop of San Francisco (Córdoba), monsignor Sergio Osvaldo Buenanuevaexplained, in dialogue with infobaethat “when one analyzes the diplomacy of the Holy See, one has to note that it is diplomacy, but that it does not run through the same records as the diplomacy of countries.” “It is what is usually called a diplomacy for peace: It basically seeks that where there are Catholic communities, they have a free mission, that they can carry out their mission freely, the bishops, the dioceses, and the parishes. Especially in conflict zones such as these Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, and now Nicaragua”.

The religious also valued the fact that the Supreme Pontiff privileged personal ties: “Just like in the time of John Paul II, with all the conflict with the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Wall… Pope Francis’ personal style has added special characteristics to him. With the countries of Latin America he has a special weight, because Francisco is also Latin American, he knows the situation of our countries from within and can better understand some claims that are not understood from the outside ”.

“The Popes faced with these dramatic situations, like Pius XII in World War II, now Francisco in similar situations, is like a dilemma: I appeal to clamorous exclamations, which can be publicly disseminated or silent steps, really effective, from which they leave to benefit some or many, and of which I may not be able to give an account because if I publish them I will make them lower the blind, and I will not be able to continue intervening. In many conflicts in which the Holy See intervenes, the nuncios are faced with this dilemma”, he added.

In an article published years ago, the Venezuelan theologian Rafael Luciani considered that “the Pope has always been consistent and has acted in communion with the regional ecclesiastical authorities.”

Pope Francis Monsignor Buenanueva
Monsignor Sergio Osvaldo Buenanueva, together with Pope Francis

Francisco, and the crisis in Venezuela

In 2016 the social, political and economic crisis of Venezuela escalated like never before. In December of that year, the Vatican He mediated the dialogues between Chavismo and the opposition in the Dominican Republic, through Cardinal Pietro ParolínSecretary of State for the Holy See who also served as Nuncio in Venezuela between 2009 and 2013. However, those efforts, which also included the participation of former presidents Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (Spain), Martin Torrijos (Panama), and Leonel Fernandez (Dominican Republic), and Unasurthey came to nothing. The Venezuelan opposition and a large part of the international community denounced at that time that the Maduro dictatorship never wanted to talkbut to buy time with false promises to decompress the situation that was lived in those days.

After the failed negotiations, Francisco sent a letter to Chavismo and the opposition, stressing the importance of dialogue. But those words were not well received by the Chavista leadership. The letter, signed by Parolin, demanded compliance with the agreements through the “urgent implementation of measures aimed at alleviating the serious crisis in the supply of food and medicine.” He also called for the release of the detained opponents and stressed the need for an “electoral path.”

The letter angered Chavismo. God given hair He warned at that time that the Vatican was not going to “protect Venezuela” and considered it “disrespectful” that Parolin had sent a letter. Maduro, for his part, accused the Holy See of being a “facilitator” that dedicated itself to “sabotaging” the dialogue.

Years later, in 2019, the moment of greatest international isolation of the Venezuelan dictatorship for its violations of human rights, Maduro requested the intervention of the Vatican. But the answer was not what he expected.

Pietro Parolin (middle) was the Vatican representative in the dialogue in Venezuela (Reuters)
Pietro Parolin (middle) was the Vatican representative in the dialogue in Venezuela (Reuters)

Through a letter, the Dad reminded the Venezuelan dictator that already in the past “what was agreed in the meetings was not followed by concrete actions”. He also maintained that this series of requests was considered “essential for the dialogue to develop fruitfully and effectively,” and stressed “the need to avoid any form of bloodshed.”

But in addition to the forceful response, there was another detail that drew attention and that marked a contrast with respect to his usual treatment with the world’s leaders: he did not call him “president”. “Your Excellency Mr. Nicolás Maduro Moros, Caracas”, was the addressee of the message that left from the Vatican.

That letter was private and only a few extracts were released in the Italian press. From the tone, it is easy to presume that Chavismo did not want to divulge the content. Francis never revealed its content, but he did refer to the Holy See’s attempts to intercede in the Venezuelan crisis.

“I support all the Venezuelan people, who are suffering. If I were to say ‘pay attention to these countries or to these others’, I would be putting myself into a role that I am not familiar with: it would be a pastoral imprudence on my part and it would cause damage. I thought about the words, rethought them and expressed my closeness and what I feel. I suffer for all this. Agreeing is not enough. A just and peaceful solution. Bloodshed scares me, ”he said in January 2019, on the plane back from his trip to Panama.

Francisco He was also criticized that year for not having condemned the human rights violations in Venezuela in the letter to Maduro. For those days Venezuelan Cardinal Baltazar Porras came out in defense of the Supreme Pontiffand recalled that the Catholic Church is not against any political sector in the country, but that its job is to seek union and reach a peaceful solution.

In 2016, the Vatican withdrew from the negotiations between Chavismo and the opposition due to breach of the agreements by the Maduro regime.
In 2016, the Vatican withdrew from the negotiations between Chavismo and the opposition due to breach of the agreements by the Maduro regime.

“The Vatican has always been willing to help and mediate over time,” said the cardinal, adding that the Church’s position of not being with either party should not be assumed as “we are washing our hands ”. “The primary function and more as believers and as pastors is look for unityhe claimed.

Mgr Good News He assured that “the Holy See knows from within what the situation in Venezuela is.” In addition to the close ties with the Venezuelan bishops, Secretary of State Parolin was Nuncio in Venezuela; his number two is Edgar Peña Parra, a Venezuelan national; and so is Arturo Sosa, the superior of the Jesuits, an order to which the Pope belongs.

The Argentine bishop stressed that the work between the Pope, the diplomacy of the Holy See and the Venezuelan bishops “has been very important.” In particular, to guarantee humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable sectors of the country. “Caring for the most vulnerable is a very characteristic feature of Pope Francis from the beginning of his pontificate.”

In an extensive interview with Infobae, Pope Francis said that he sees a light of hope so that the Venezuelan regime can be modified “because it is the historical circumstances that are going to force them to change the way they have a dialogue.” And he stated: “I never close the door on possible solutions.”

The persecution of the Sandinista regime against the Nicaraguan Church grows (AFP)
The persecution of the Sandinista regime against the Nicaraguan Church grows (AFP) (ARMANDO ACEVEDO /)

Concern about the persecution against the Church in Nicaragua

In April 2018, a serious social and political crisis began in Nicaragua, which continues to this day. Since those civil protests against the government of Daniel Ortegathe regime intensified its campaign of persecution and repression. Campaign that also has among its victims the Church.

In 2018 the Sandinista regime expelled from Nicaragua a Colombian and a Salvadoran priest, and in 2022 he expelled the apostolic nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag already 18 nuns of the order Missionaries of Charityfounded by the Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

It also keeps eight priests under arrest, including Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who was abducted by police agents at dawn on Friday, August 19, along with four other priests, two seminarians and a cameraman from the episcopal palace of the diocese of Matagalpa, after having been confined for 15 days. Álvarez, very critical of the Ortega regime, He was sentenced on February 10 to 26 years and 4 months in prison after being convicted of crimes considered “treason against the homeland.”

Added to these arbitrary arrests, Ortega also attacked Pope Francis and targeted the Catholic Church, considering it a “perfect dictatorship”. The head of the Nicaraguan regime attacked the clergy and the Vatican: “Who chooses the priests, the bishops, the pope, the cardinals? How many votes? Who gives them to you?” he asked in September of last year.

Pope Francis regretted the sentence against the Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, a critic of the Daniel Ortega regime (AFP)
Pope Francis regretted the sentence against the Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, a critic of the Daniel Ortega regime (AFP) (ARMANDO ACEVEDO /)

Ortega said that if the Catholic Church If you want to talk about democracy, you should start “by electing the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, the priests with the vote of the Catholics, but rather everything is imposed, it is a dictatorship, the perfect dictatorship, it is a tyranny, the perfect tyranny.”

In the interview with Infobae, the Supreme Pontiff also gave his opinion, as rarelyon the situation in Nicaragua and spoke about the sayings of the Nicaraguan dictator: “With great respect, I have no choice but to think about an imbalance in the person who directs [Daniel Ortega]”.

Regarding the crisis that the Central American country is going through, he added: “There we have a bishop in prison, a very serious man, very capable. He wanted to give his testimony and did not accept exile. It is something that is outside of what we are experiencing, it is as if it were bringing the communist dictatorship of 1917 or the Hitlerite dictatorship of 1935, bringing the same here… They are a type of dictatorships rude Or, to use a cute distinction from Argentina, guarangas. Guarangas”.

Some time ago, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Managua, Silvio Baez, also had harsh words against Ortega, whom he described as a liar and cynical: “How much ignorance, how much lies and how much cynicism! A dictator giving democracy lessons; someone who exercises power illegitimately, criticizing the authority that Jesus granted to his Church; someone who is an atheist, lamenting that he does not feel represented by the Church”.

Báez is in exile in the United States by decision of Pope Franciswho for security reasons – there were death threats against the Nicaraguan priest – asked him to leave the country.

On February 12, the Supreme Pontiff regretted the sentence against monsignor alvarezand encouraged policy makers to “sincerely seek” peace in that country. “The news that comes from Nicaragua has hurt me a little, and I cannot help but remember with concern the Bishop of Matagalpa, Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, whom I love very much, sentenced to 26 years in prison and also the people who have been deported to United States”, said the pontiff after the Sunday Angelus that day.

long ago, Francisco He had also expressed his wish that the Sisters of Calcutta “can return to Nicaragua”. About the expulsion of summertagthe Pope called it “serious from the diplomatic point of view” and recognized that “it is difficult to understand the things that have happened”. However, he clarified that “he will never stop the dialogue” with the Sandinista regime in search of a peaceful solution.

Mgr Good News said that, in line with his diplomacy for peace, “The Vatican tries to maintain a line of dialogue.” He acknowledged, however, that “the situation in Nicaragua it is very complicated”, as a consequence of the “escalation of repression of ecclesial life”.

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, envoy of Pope Francis, called for the release of political prisoners in Cuba during his trip to the island last January (REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini)
Cardinal Beniamino Stella, envoy of Pope Francis, called for the release of political prisoners in Cuba during his trip to the island last January (REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini) (ALEXANDRE MENEGHINI/)

Freedom for political prisoners in Cuba

On July 11, 2021, the largest social mobilization in Cuba against the Miguel Díaz-Canel regime was registered. Since then the protests have persisted and, to appease the situation, the dictatorship intensified repression and persecution. According to Prisoners Defenderson the island there are more than 1,000 political prisoners.

the cardinal Beniamino Stellaenvoy of Pope Francis, called for the release of political prisoners. “It is important that young people who at one point expressed their thoughts in the way we know them can return to their homes”said the cardinal on his way through Havana last January.

Shortly before his address at the University of Havanain which the dictator was present Miguel Diaz-Canelthe papal envoy remarked that “freedom cannot be subordinated to any calculation of interests, circumstances, waiting for better times.”

But in this context of growing crisis on the island, last year some statements by the Pope in an interview generated controversy. “I confess, I have a human relationship with Raúl Castro,” he told two Mexican journalists. Those words caused a stir among those who demand a tougher stance against Latin American dictatorships.

“Sometimes that is interpreted as ideological affinity (…) Francisco privileges, and he already did here as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the personal link so that in this personal treatment the objectives of diplomacy for peace can be achieved; to improve conditions, especially for those who live in more difficult situations”, explained Monsignor Buenanueva.