Accepting an invitation to address the coordinating committee of Venezuela's national assembly, the cardinal of Caracas defended his right as a citizen to voice his concern about political issues without being slandered by the nation's president. Vatican Radio reported that Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino addressed the 15-member committee July 27 after being accused of attacking Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the nation's legislature. Opening celebrations of Venezuela's bicentennial July 5, Chavez called the cardinal a pig and said "he tries to scare people about communism." Cardinal Urosa told the committee that in exercising both his rights as a citizen and his duties as archbishop of Caracas, he was giving voice to Gospel values and to "the concerns and interests of the Venezuelan people for peace, encounter, inclusion and for respect for the civil, social and political human rights enshrined in the constitution." Venezuelan Catholic leaders have been among the harshest critics of the policies of Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and has promised to transform the oil-rich nation into a socialist state. Church officials have accused the Chavez government of violating civil rights, permitting an explosion of crime and weakening democracy. Chavez, in turn, has accused the church leadership of elitism. Cardinal Urosa told the parliamentary committee that none of his preaching or public statements has ever been motivated by political partisanship, but by concern for democracy, human rights and political pluralism. "I expressed the opinion that President Chavez wants to lead the country on the path toward Marxist socialism," he told the committee.