General Motors announced that authorities in Venezuela took over its Chevrolet manufacturing plant in what is described as an "illegal judicial seizure of its assets." GM has ceased operations at the plant while declaring that the socialist government of the South American republic has shown a "total disregard" of its legal rights. Venezuelan authorities have removed assets, including vehicles, from the corporation’s property. "[GM] strongly rejects the arbitrary measures taken by the authorities and will vigorously take all legal actions, within and outside of Venezuela, to defend its rights," it said in a statement.
 
General Motors Venezolana has done business in Venezuela for almost 70 years, employing nearly 2,700 workers. In addition, it has 79 dealers in the country. GM will make "separation payments" to its workers. ExxonMobil pulled out its operations in 2007 when the government sought to nationalize one of its projects. Coca-Cola was forced to halt production of Coke and other beverages due to a sugar shortage in 2016.
The Venezuelan government has received accolades from foreign celebrities and socialists such as Hollywood director Oliver Stone and actor Sean Penn. 
 
The formerly prosperous country has been rocked by more than 10 years of political turmoil ever since the onset of its so-called Bolivarian Revolution led by the now deceased President Hugo Chavez. His successor, President Nicolas Maduro, has cracked down even further on dissent while his fellow citizens are facing the worst economic crisis in the country’s history. Basic commodities such as medicines, rice, beans, flour, and toilet paper are scarce. Reports are rife that people are eating dogs and cats. 
 
Mass demonstrations rocked various cities and the national capital, Caracas, on Wednesday. At least three persons died, including a 17-year-old boy in Caracas, a 23-year-old woman in San Cristobal, and national guardsman in the western region of the country. Some Venezuelans are seeking asylum in neighboring Colombia. 
 
Opposition politicians have been imprisoned and assassinated while rallies against the government have failed to bring about change. The government, which is aligned with Cuba, Iran, and Russia, has sought to blame the U.S. government, the Catholic Church, and capitalists for the country’s woes. Venezuela's economy shrank by 18% in 2016 in what was the third consecutive year of recession. Unemployment will soon be more than 25 percent. The value of the national current, the bolivar, has been wiped out by hyperinflation while the price of consumer goods has skyrocketed.
 
Since April 1, massive protests against the Maduro regime ensued when the government barred opposition leader Henrique Capriles from holding political office for the next decade and a half. Maduro has been accused of acting like a dictator. Four persons were killed during recent protests.
 
In late March, the pro-Maduro Supreme Court sought to strip the opposition-led National Assembly of its powers, but then reversed itself after a popular outcry. The court also blocked any reform initiatives coming from the opposition.
 

Catholic Church opposes regime

 
"Civil and peaceful protest is not a crime. It is a right! Its control cannot be an excessive repression,",read a statement by the Venezuelan Catholic Bishops' Conference.
 
The Catholic bishops stressed, "Democracy is characterized, above all, by the respect and protection of citizens' rights. When the state (or the government) ignores them or does not respect them, it stops being a democratic State, loses legitimacy, because its function is to defend all citizens regardless of their political ideology. There are other factors that deny democracy, such as the concentration of public powers in the hands of a single power. This is the current situation in Venezuela."
 
According to the bishops, "Defending fundamental rights, life, freedom, health ... and other rights of citizens is a duty of every human being. It is also a right and duty of the Church and of all believers because human and civil rights do not belong solely to the socio-political sphere, but also to the religious sphere."
 
"The Venezuelan Bishops Conference,” said the statement, “invites all citizens, believers in Christ and men and women of good will, to act according to conscience, according to the democratic principles and laws of the country, as well as to exercise the right to protest and publicly manifest in a responsible and peaceful manner."


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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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