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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.

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. Embassy 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 country's previous Constitution provided for freedom of religion, as long as the practice of a religion did not threaten public order or violate good custom; the new Constitution, proclaimed on December 30, 1999, provides for freedom of religion, on the condition that the practice of a religion does not violate public morality, decency, and the public order, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

The Directorate of Justice and Religion (DJR) in the Ministry of Interior and Justice, which replaced the Office of Religion in an executive branch reorganization, is the government office responsible for maintaining a registry of religious groups, disbursing funds to the Roman Catholic Church, facilitating the travel of missionaries and religious officials, and promoting awareness and understanding among the various religious communities. Each local church must register with the DJR in order to hold legal status as a religious organization and to own property. The requirements for registration are largely administrative. However, some groups have complained that the process of registration is slow and inefficient. In 1964 the Government and the Holy See signed a concordat that underscores the country's historical ties to the Roman Catholic Church and provides government subsidies to the Church, including to its social programs and schools. The Government annually provides over $1.5 million (approximately 1.1 billion bolivars) in subsidies to the Catholic Church's schools and social programs. Other religious groups are free to establish and run their own schools, which do not receive subsidies from the Government.

Religious Demography

According to the latest government figures, in 2000, approximately 70 percent of the population are Roman Catholic, approximately 29 percent are Protestant, and the remaining 1 percent practice other religions or are atheists. There are small but influential Muslim and Jewish communities. The capital city of Caracas has a large mosque, and the country's Jewish community is very active. According to the Government, Protestant churches are the country's most rapidly growing religious community.

There are approximately 4,000 foreign missionaries working in the country. Foreign missionaries require a special visa to enter the country, which is obtained through the DJR. Missionaries are not refused entry generally, but many complain that the DJR often takes months or years to process a request.

Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom

On several occasions, the Roman Catholic Church has been monitored or threatened by state agents for political reasons.

In November 1999, Catholic Bishop Roberto Luckert of Coro reportedly spoke against the new Constitution on his diocese's radio station. The next day, two military intelligence agents allegedly visited the station, accused its manager of opposing the political process, and warned that they would be monitoring and recording future broadcasts.

In April 2000, Monsignor Baltazar Porras, the president of the Roman Catholic Episcopal Conference of Venezuela (CEV) publicly criticized the Government regarding a lack of electoral transparency, the lack of political diversity of the National Electoral Council, and the need for monitoring the upcoming electoral process. He also criticized the Government's rejection of some international aid during devastating floods at the end of 1999, growing social instability, and the supraconstitutional activities of the National Legislative Commission. Following these criticisms, the press reported that the State Political Police (DISIP) videotaped a Mass said by Monsignor Porras. The Director of DISIP immediately apologized, the agent was suspended, and the national Ombudsman's office opened an investigation of the incident. Bishops also reported receiving telephone threats during the CEV's assembly.

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 various religious communities are amicable.

There are numerous ecumenical groups throughout the country.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy maintains close contacts with the various religious communities and meets periodically with the DJR. The Ambassador meets regularly with religious authorities and the Embassy facilitates communication between U.S. religious groups and the Government. The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

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