CARACAS - Venezuela's legislative speaker called on Pope Francis on Thursday to plead with President Nicolas Maduro to allow food aid to reach the country's destitute.
"Reality forces us to address you for the purpose of encouraging you to make an urgent call for the immediate opening of the humanitarian channel" by which food and medicines can be distributed to the neediest cases, Julio Borges said in a letter addressed to Francis.
Borges also asked the pontiff to call for "a cessation of political persecution" against opponents and for human rights to be respected, according to the letter dated August 28 but made public Thursday.
"Every week four children die of malnutrition, the rate of shortage of medicines exceeds 90 percent and millions of Venezuelans cross our borders, fleeing the tragedy," the head of the opposition-majority parliament said.
He noted that donations sent to Venezuela in recent months by organizations such as Caritas Chile have not been accepted by the Maduro government.
Borges's press office said the letter had been sent to Francis to coincide with his September 6-10 visit to neighboring Colombia.
The Vatican was one of the facilitators of a month-long dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, which collapsed amid mutual recrimination.
Venezuela is suffering an economic crisis that has caused shortages of food and medicine.
International powers accuse Maduro of dismantling democracy by taking over state institutions in order to resist opposition pressure for him to quit.
© Agence France-Presse