Another Reason not to like Hugo Chavez: anti-Semitism
President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez (right) has proven himself to be no friend of Christians. But it seems the climate for religious freedom is taking a significant turn for the worse. Recently, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom put a spotlight on government-sponsored anti-Semitism.
The Commission sent letters earlier this month to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon Jr. and to U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief Asma Jahangir expressing concern about increasing incidents of anti-Semitism in Venezuela, including the attack on the Tiferet Israel synagogue in Caracas. The Commission is assessing the situation and ways in which the United States can respond to protect religious freedom in Venezuela.
"Over the past several years, the Jewish community has suffered as President Chavez and government-affiliated media publicly made anti-Semitic remarks and published anti-Semitic cartoons and opinions," wrote Commission Chair Felice D. Gaer to Shannon. "Last August (2008), President Chavez said he would work with Brazilian President Lula and Argentina President Cristina Kirchner to end anti-Semitism in Latin America. We urge the State Department to undertake efforts to ensure that President Chavez keeps his promise, and ceases fomenting anti-Semitism in Venezuela."
The letter to Assistant Secretary Shannon calls on the U.S. government to work with countries that may have influence with the Venezuelan government to press the Chavez administration to prohibit the use of anti-Semitism in officially-related media and fully investigate all reported incidents of anti-Semitism in order to bring perpetrators to justice.
In recent years, Chavez has taken an aggressive stance toward missionary activity in tribal areas by Christians. The US State Department reported:
In October 2005 President Chavez accused missionaries from the U.S.-based religious group New Tribes Mission (NTM) of contaminating the cultures of indigenous populations as well as carrying out illicit activities with the group's small aircraft. The Ministry of Interior subsequently rescinded the group's permission, granted in 1953, to conduct its social programs among indigenous tribes. The NTM appealed the order to the Supreme Court, which denied an injunction but admitted the case, which remained pending at the end of the period covered by this report. More than 100 NTM missionaries withdrew from the indigenous areas in compliance with the Government's order, abandoning properties held for decades. The Government reportedly seized some of these properties, without compensation, for its own social programs. Other foreign missionary groups working in the indigenous areas departed voluntarily after government officials warned that all such missionary activity would be stopped. Despite being duly registered religious and civil society groups, at the end of the period covered by this report foreign missionary groups were prohibited from entering indigenous areas.
Last I heard, New Tribes was proceeding with a court appeal.
There is no Easy Button of influence on Chavez. If you are in Venezuela and have an update on the situation for religious freedom, email me here.