Chavez in a 2007 photo in front of a portrait of 19th Century hero Simon Bolivar
“Recently, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom put a spotlight on government-sponsored anti-Semitism,” wrote Morgan. “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.”
In particular, the report cited an attack on the Tiferet Israel Synagogue in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas and quoted Commission Chair Felice D. Gaer saying, “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.”
Morgan also recounted Chavez’ expulsion of hundreds of Christian missionaries, accusing them of contaminating the cultures of indigenous populations. His Ministry of Interior revoked their permission to serve in the Venezuelan jungles or run schools, clinics and nutrition centers that had been in operation for decades. Chavez called the missionaries “imperialists” and proclaimed he felt “ashamed” at their presence.
Singled out by Chavez was New Tribes Ministries, “which preaches to non-Christian indigenous peoples,” reported the BBC, “one of Latin America’s biggest missionary organizations” which ”has 3,200 workers and operates in 17 countries, with operations in West Africa and Southeast Asia, too.”
Christian workers were forced to leave remote tribal areas and other pulled out after Chavez officials warned that they, too, would be expelled and banned from working with indigenous tribes if they did not leave voluntarily.
Chavez called the Christian missionaries “part of a broader conspiracy in Washington to topple a president whose regional influence is growing thanks to massive oil revenues,” reported BBC’s Simon Watts. “U.S. officials clearly do not like Chavez much, but they strongly deny any plot and it is also hard to tell how genuinely the Venezuelan president believes what he says.
“Like his friend Fidel Castro, Chavez thrives on conflict and finds it politically useful to portray himself as a victim of U.S. aggression.”
“The Associated Press’ Christopher Toothaker has a long and fascinating look at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez,” reported Molly Hemingway a few days ago for GetReligion.org. “Let’s get right into it. Here’s the top of the piece:
“CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has spent much of his career praising the socialist ideas of famed atheists such as Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. Now in the thick of a prolonged battle against cancer, however, the leftist leader is drawing inspiration more than ever from a spiritual leader: Jesus Christ.
“Chavez has been praying for divine intervention during increasingly infrequent appearances on television, holding up a crucifix while vowing to overcome his illness. He says living with cancer has made him ‘more Christian.’”
His voice cracking with emotion, “‘I’m sure our Christ will do it again, continuing making the miracle,’ Chavez said as he raised his cross to his lips and kissed it, prompting applause from an audience of aides.
“If Chavez survives cancer, political analysts say his increasing religiosity could pay election-year dividends in a country where Catholicism remains influential.”
“And,” observes Hemingway, “it goes on like that for a while. The report is detailed and includes quite a bit of perspective from analysts (including of the skeptical variety). He’s apparently become quite outspoken about his faith, even crying during a televised Mass with relatives. The article is illustrated with a picture of Chavez holding up a crucifix and kissing it.”
“The story of Hugo Chávez’s presidency in Venezuela since he first
arrived in office in 1999 has been a bit like the dance of the seven veils,” noted the Economist magazine a few years ago.
Chavez in full presidential regalia
His pilgrimage to Iran’s sacred Islamic shrine to the Imam Rida, caused an uproar in the Iranian press, reported Australia’s News Limited. Outraged Muslims criticized him “of being a communist and an atheist. They further criticized the Islamic Republic for allowing him to enter the shrine.”