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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Constitution grants to all residents the right "freely to profess their faith" and also states that aliens enjoy all the civil rights of citizens, including the right "freely to exercise their faith."

The Constitution states that the Federal Government "sustains the Apostolic Roman Catholic faith." The Government provides the Catholic Church with an annual subsidy of $15 million, which is administered through the Secretariat of Worship in the Office of the Presidency. The Secretariat is responsible for conducting the Government's relations with the Catholic Church, the non-Catholic Christian churches, and other religious organizations in the country. A requirement that the president of the country be Catholic was removed when the Constitution was amended in 1994.

The Secretariat of Worship maintains a National Registry of approximately 2,800 religious organizations representing some 30 churches, including most of the world's major faiths. Religious organizations that wish to hold public worship services and to obtain tax-exempt status must register with the Secretariat, and must report periodically to the Secretariat in order to retain their status. Possession of a place of worship, an organizational charter, and an ordained clergy are among the criteria the Secretariat considers in determining whether to grant or withdraw registration.

The majority of citizens are Catholic, but the Government has no accurate statistics on the number of members that belong to the Catholic Church and the other registered churches. The national census does not elicit information on religious affiliation. An article in "Gente" magazine in March 1999 provided estimates for the religious affiliations of citizens. According to this article, the Roman Catholic Church claims 25,000,000 baptized members (approximately 70 percent of the population). Approximately 2,900,000 citizens, or about 8 percent of the population, are believed to be evangelical Protestants; of these, 70 percent are Pentecostal. There are reportedly 800,000 Muslims, 250,000 Jews, 100,000 Apostolic Armenian Orthodox, and 4,000 Anglicans in the country. The Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas--DAIA) represents the Jewish community.

The Secretariat of Worship promotes religious pluralism through such activities as conferences at which representatives of the various churches meet to discuss current issues. Leaders of the non-Catholic churches are invited regularly to attend the Te Deum Mass celebrated in the National Cathedral on important national holidays. In 1995 a law was passed acknowledging the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as holidays; however, the law does not require employers to compensate Jewish employees who choose to take these days off. The DAIA is seeking to have these days declared as national holidays.

Registered religious organizations may bring foreign missionaries to the country by applying to the Secretariat of Worship, which in turn notifies the immigration authorities so that the appropriate immigration documents may be issued.

Public education is secular, but students may request instruction in the faith of their choice, to be carried out in the school itself or at a religious institution, as circumstances warrant. Many churches operate private schools, including seminaries and universities.

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.

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 among the various religious communities are amicable. Interfaith understanding is promoted actively by nongovernmental organizations such as Argentina House in the Holy Land of Israel. Ecumenical attendance is common at important religious events, such as the Jewish community's annual Holocaust commemoration. In 1997 a memorial mural to the victims of the Holocaust, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, and the 1994 bombing of the city's Jewish community center (AMIA) was unveiled in the Chapel of Our Lady of Lujan in the National Cathedral in Buenos Aires.

However, anti-Semitism exists, and combating it is a priority for the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism, an agency of the Ministry of Interior. The Institute investigates violations of a 1988 law that prohibits discrimination based on "race, religion, nationality, ideology, political opinion, sex, economic position, social class, or physical characteristics," and carries out educational programs to promote social and cultural pluralism and combat discriminatory attitudes.

There were scattered reports of anti-Semitic acts and of threats against Jewish organizations and individuals. In January 1998 unknown persons vandalized about 20 gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in the town of Ciudadela. The crime resembled a December 1997 incident in which 30 gravestones were defiled in a Jewish cemetery in the town of La Tablada. Investigations continued into those two incidents, as well as an incident in the La Tablada cemetery in 1996, but there were no arrests. Also in January 1998, shots were fired at the wall of the small Jewish cemetery in Liniers, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, and 19 tombs were smashed. The authorities arrested three youths for the crime, but no trial has taken place. In February 1998, a swastika was painted on the main gate of a Jewish cemetery in San Salvador. In April 1998, a memorial to Yitzhak Rabin was destroyed in the city of La Plata. According to press reports, two officers dismissed from the Buenos Aires provincial police force were the main suspects in the two attacks on Jewish cemeteries on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve in 1997.

In April 1998, a court sentenced three Buenos Aires youths to 3 years in prison for assaulting a man in 1995 whom they believed to be Jewish. It was the first instance of an oral trial under the 1988 antidiscrimination law. The court found that the three had acted out of "hatred due to race, religion, or nationality" and in violation of the 1988 antidiscrimination statute. They were given the maximum penalty provided by law. However, in February 1999 an appeals court overturned the conviction and ordered the three retried in another court. At the April 1998 sentencing, some persons in the courtroom shouted anti-Semitic remarks. The National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism, the nongovernmental Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, and the Delegation of the Jewish-Argentine Associations filed suit demanding that the perpetrators be identified and tried under the antidiscrimination law.

In May 1998, a court convicted four men of printing and distributing anti-Semitic literature under the 1988 antidiscrimination law. The court sentenced one man to 2 1/2 years in prison and gave three others suspended sentences of 2 years.

Investigations continued into the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombing of the city's Jewish community center (AMIA). In November 1998, the Brazilian authorities located Wilson dos Santos, who 2 weeks prior to the AMIA bombing reported that he had heard from Iranian sources that there was to be a terrorist attack in Buenos Aires. In December 1998, one of these reputed sources, Nasrim Mokhtari, was arrested at the Buenos Aires international airport. Authorities questioned Dos Santos and Mokhtari extensively but released them for lack of evidence. In November 1998, the authorities indicted Carlos Alberto Telleldin, the mechanic who reportedly worked on the truck used in the AMIA bombing, on charges of having taken an active part in the attack. Four Buenos Aires provincial police officers charged with providing the stolen vehicle used in the bombing remained in custody. The chief investigators in both cases have blamed Islamic Jihad publicly for the attacks. This group publicly claimed responsibility for the attack on the Israeli Embassy following the bombing. In the AMIA case, the instructional judge based the allegation on the many similarities between the attack and others claimed by Islamic Jihad.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

U.S. Embassy officers meet periodically with a variety of church leaders, invite them to embassy social functions, and attend events organized by churches and nongovernmental organizations that deal with issues of religious freedom.

In April 1998, an embassy officer attended the ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of the unveiling of the National Cathedral's memorial mural to the victims of the Holocaust and the Israeli Embassy and Jewish community center bombings. The ceremony was organized by Argentina House in the Holy Land of Israel. The U.S. Embassy also was represented at the presentation in December 1998 of a postal stamp honoring the mural. In September 1998, the U.S. Embassy contributed an article on religious freedom to Argentina House's Internet site.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999