Archbishop Diego Padron Sanchez accused the government of trying to install a Marxist dictatorship

Venezuela’s bishops have said the government aims to install a “military dictatorship, socialist, Marxist and communist”.

The Church and Venezuelan authorities have long had a tense relationship, but the comments by Archbishop Diego Padron Sanchez, president of the bishops’ conference, refer to a process unilaterally initiated by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro to draft a new constitution for the country. To create that document, Venezuelans on July 30 will elect hundreds of representatives to a constituent assembly.

Maduro said the initiative aimed to bring peace to the country after 100 days of anti-government protests in which over 80 people have died.

But the opposition and bishops have denounced the plan. They say the assembly’s structure would over-represent pro-government sectors, guaranteeing a body favourable to a government that polls show has the support of less than a quarter of the population.

“A constituent assembly without consultation from the people first will bring negative consequences … because the government excludes many sectors to impose a constitutional communal state,” Archbishop Padron said.