‘Imperialism,’ cry the Marxists; ‘ethnocide,’ cry the anthropologists.

Fifty Americans penetrating remote jungles, winning the confidence of the Indians, changing their customs and religion.… Such a scenario makes for conflict, even in Venezuela, the most democratic of Latin American countries.

In its latest attacks against New Tribes Mission workers in Venezuela, the national press has deployed its full arsenal. Lurid headlines in virtually all of the country’s newspapers accuse the missionaries of intelligence activities, coercion, sabotage of natural resources, imperialism, and ethnocide. These are worn accusations, almost clichés, but in the last few years they have arisen more often. “Every time this comes up it’s a little worse,” said Wilfred Neese, a second-generation missionary who represents the Sanford, Florida-based mission before the Venezuelan government.

The recent furor began in November of 1978, with the release of a short documentary film, Yo Hablo a Caracas (“I Speak to Caracas”). The film featured a Maquiritare Indian, identified as the “chief” of his tribe, who had worked with New Tribes missionaries for nine years and was now allegedly denouncing them as imperialists. It has won a prize as best short subject film.

But critics say the film is seriously flawed. The Indian spoke in his native language and people fluent in both the Maquiritare and Spanish languages called the “translation” a “script.” Also, the Indian’s tribe—which has no one chief—later censured him for cooperating with the filmmakers. The film was shown in the Venezuelan Congress, in schools, and public forums. It brought about four separate investigations: by the Congress, the state of Bolivar (where many of the missionaries live), the attorney ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.