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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. 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.

Missionary groups must register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religion as nongovernmental organizations (NGO's); there has been no indication that they have been treated differently than other NGO's. The Ministry has not disallowed any registrations by missionary groups.

Roman Catholics constitute the majority (between 60 and 70 percent) of the population. About 400 religious groups, mostly Protestant, are active in the country.

Many of these 400 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.

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.

Many church representatives from other countries play a major role in the country. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) is currently engaged in the construction of a temple/center for its activities in western South America. There is also a small Jewish community with a synagogue in La Paz, and a few Muslims with 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. 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 widely celebrated on January 24. Many native superstitions continue to flourish.

The only minority religion in the country perceived as "foreign" is that of the Hari Krishnas, whom the Government sought to expel from the country in the mid-1980's, reportedly at the request of parents fearful of the group's influence over their children. However, the attempt to expel them failed when it was declared illegal by the Supreme Court. The Hari Krishnas occasionally appear and dispense information in downtown La Paz.

Religious instruction is practiced in schools, but far more in public schools than in private ones (with the exception of those run by religious orders). It is compulsory for all children to attend religious instruction regardless of their faith.

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 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. 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.

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 Religion, principal religious leaders, and the Papal Nuncio.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999