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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Roman Catholicism is the official religion.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. Roman Catholicism predominates, and the Constitution recognizes it as the official religion. The Roman Catholic Church receives support from the State (about 300 priests receive small stipends from the State) and exercises a limited degree of political influence through the Bolivian Bishops' Conference.

In February 2000, a draft supreme decree (similar to an executive order) governing the relationships between religious organizations and the Government was submitted to President Hugo Banzer Suarez for his signature. The draft updates a similar decree dating from 1985, which has been the subject of criticism by Catholic and non-Catholic churches. The new decree reflects input from the churches, and, according to government authorities, is designed to increase transparency and dialog in church-state relations. For example, under the 1985 decree, evangelical groups must receive permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before conducting public gatherings such as outdoor celebrations; the new decree requires only that groups consult civil authorities to address concerns such as traffic. The draft decree requires that the fundraising reports of religions be certified by a notary public. This new requirement is designed to protect churches against allegations of money laundering or receiving money from drug funds.

Non-Catholic religious organizations, including missionary groups, must register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship, and receive authorization ("personeria juridica") for legal religious representation. The Ministry has not disallowed any registrations by missionary groups or other religious organizations. Religious groups receiving funds from abroad may enter into a framework agreement ("convenio marco") with the Government, lasting 3 years, which permits them to enjoy a judicial standing similar to the standing of nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) and to have tax-free status. Some 20 religious groups, including the Catholic Church, have this framework agreement with the Government.

Hari Krishna is in the process of applying for registration as a religious organization. Hari Krishna previously had registered as an educational organization instead of as a religious organization. The Government sought to expel Hari Krishna from the country in the mid-1980's; however, the attempt failed when the Supreme Court declared it illegal.

Religious Demography

Roman Catholics constitute the majority (estimated at 80 percent) of the population. There are approximately 266 registered religious groups, mostly Protestant; another approximately 130 applications are pending.

Many of these 266 groups are missionary groups. They include Mennonites, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists, Pentecostals, and many evangelical groups. Most can be characterized as Christian minority religious groups rather than separate religions.

Many church representatives from other countries play a major role in the country. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) has inaugurated a temple/center in Cochabamba for its activities in western South America. There is also a small Jewish community with a synagogue in La Paz, and a few Muslims and a mosque in the eastern city of Santa Cruz. Korean immigrants have their own church in La Paz. The majority of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese immigrants have settled in the city of Santa Cruz where they have established communities. There is a university in the city founded by Korean immigrants, which has evangelical/Presbyterian ties. There are Buddhist and Shinto communities, as well as a considerable Baha'i community spread throughout the country.

The Roman Catholic Church is weaker in the countryside than in the cities; according to senior Church authorities, this is due to a lack of resources. Thus, traditional religious practices of the Aymara and Quechua Indians continue to have their place in indigenous beliefs and rituals, with a focus on the "Pachamama" or "Mother Earth" figure, as well as on "Akeko," originally an indigenous god of luck, harvests, and general abundance, whose festival is celebrated widely on January 24. Many native superstitions continue to flourish.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Only Catholic religious instruction is provided in public schools. Non-Catholic instruction is not yet available in public schools for students of other faiths; an alternate course on "ethics" is planned but has not yet been implemented.

In August 1999, the Unification Church complained of ongoing harassment by the Government, specifically citing the August 1998 revocation of three civil registrations for church-affiliated NGO's by the La Paz departmental government. However, the Unification Church still is registered legally as a religious organization with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship. The Unification Church participated in the discussions between religious groups and the Government to draft the new Supreme Decree.

A local mission, the Ekklesia Church, protested its investigation by the Government; however, the issue appeared to be more one of adhering to administrative and fiscal norms than a true religious matter.

The Government does not take any steps to promote interfaith understanding. If the President goes officially to Mass, it is traditional for his Cabinet to accompany him, even though political leaders may have different religious beliefs.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the country's diverse religious communities are amicable. In June 1999, the Catholic Church announced that it would no longer call neo-Pentecostal and evangelical churches "sects," which increasingly has been viewed as a pejorative term, but would call them instead "religious organizations." According to the Bolivian Bishop's Conference, the Church considers these Pentecostal churches to have the basic foundations of Christianity. As a demonstration of improving Catholic-evangelical relations, Catholic-Pentecostal meetings were held in Ecuador in May 1997, February 1998, and May 1999.

In June 1999, a meeting was held between Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish religious leaders in order to initiate an interfaith dialog in the country. The Catholics and Methodists of Cochabamba have collaborated on publications and vigils, and following the Vatican's lead, Catholics and Lutherans in Bolivia now recognize each other's rituals of baptism.

There are no serious rivalries between religious groups, although there were reports of some resentment of missionary groups by Roman Catholics.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights and as an independent issue. The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers meet regularly with religious authorities, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship, principal religious leaders, and the Papal Nuncio.

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