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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. This includes a general guarantee for access to religious services and counsel in all civil and military establishments. There are no registration requirements for religions or religious groups.

There is no favored or state religion. All faiths are free to establish places of worship, train clergy, and proselytize, although the Government controls entry into Indian lands.

Nearly all major religions and religious organizations are present in the country. The Catholic Church's National Council of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) estimates that roughly 75 percent of the population of 160 million identify themselves as Roman Catholics, although only a small percentage of that number regularly attend Mass. Roughly 20 percent of the population identify themselves as Protestants, the majority of which are Pentecostal/evangelical. Evangelical churches have grown rapidly and challenged the religious stronghold of the Catholic Church. An estimated 85 percent of the country's Protestants are affiliated with Pentecostal/evangelical minority religious groups. Major denominations include the Assembly of God and the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Lutherans and Baptists make up the bulk of the remaining Protestants and are centered in the southern part of the country, where the majority of German and northern European immigrants concentrated during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Followers of spiritism and traditional African and syncretistic religions such Candomble, Xango, Macumba, and Umbanda constitute roughly 5 percent of the population. Candomble is the predominant traditional African religion practiced among afro-Brazilians. It centers on the worship of African deities brought to the country as a result of the slave trade. Syncretistic forms of African religions that developed in the country include Xango and Macumba, which to varying degrees combine and identify indigenous animist beliefs and Catholic saints with African deities. The capital of Bahia state, Salvador, where most African slaves arrived in the country, is considered the center of Candomble and other traditional African religions. As a result of internal migration during this century, Afro-Brazilian and syncretistic religions have spread throughout the country.

Many citizens worship in more than one church or participate in the rituals of more than one religion. Sunni and Shi'a Islam are practiced predominantly by immigrants from Arab countries who have arrived in the country during the past 25 years. Shintoism is maintained to a limited degree among the Japanese-Brazilian community.

Foreign missionary groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and several evangelical organizations, operate freely throughout the country. The Government restricts the access of missionary groups to indigenous people and requires groups to seek permission from the National Indian Foundation to enter official indigenous areas.

There are no official government programs or councils to promote interfaith dialog.

In February 1998, Samuel dos Santos and Antonio Maros de Rocha were killed by military police officers in Curitiba in the state of Parana. The two evangelical Christians disappeared while praying outside at night. By the end of 1998, one police officer had been arrested in connection with the murders. This incident does not appear to have been motivated by the religion of the victims.

In March 1998, federal police took steps to expel Winifridus Oberbeek, a Dutch missionary, from the country on charges that Oberbeek encouraged indigenous tribes to invade private lands in the state of Espiritu Santo. The critical response of nongovermental organizations (NGO's) dedicated to indigenous rights and civil society led the Government to allow Oberbeek to continue his work with the Tupiniquim and Guarani Indians. This incident does not appear to have been motivated by the religion of Oberbeek.

In September 1998, unidentified gunmen attempted to kill Frei Rodrigo de Castro Amedee Peret Humberto, a Roman Catholic Franciscan monk and coordinator for the diocesan pastoral organization in the state of Minas Gerais, when he and four other land activists attempted to mediate a dispute between landless peasants and local landowners. The authorities had failed to investigate previous attacks on Frei Rodrigo. However, his activism on land rights, rather than his religion, appeared to be the motive for such attacks.

In March 1998, Luis Pescarmona, an Italian priest, was threatened with expulsion for allegedly "forming a criminal gang and inciting workers to armed struggle" in the state of Paraiba. He had received death threats and had been subject to numerous politically motivated police investigations, criminal charges, and court cases in previous years. Pescarmona's worker rights activity, rather than his religion, appeared to be the motive for such actions.

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 the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

There are amicable relations between the various religious communities in the country, although there is no national ecumenical movement.

The influence of evangelical churches in the country is growing. For example, a Sao Paulo-based Church, Renascer em Cristo, took over the national television and radio network Manchete, which was in financial difficulty and had previously been controlled by the country's Bloch Media Group. The Church exercises full control over the network, which has an audience share of less than 5 percent nationwide.

In 1998 human rights activists expressed concern because of discrimination against Jews by neo-Nazi groups in the south. Leaders in the Jewish community expressed concern in 1999 about the appearance of anti-Semitic propaganda on neo-Nazi Internet sites in Brazil in the past 2 years. Neo-Nazism appears to be a predominantly regional problem directed at Afro-Brazilians who have immigrated into Sao Paulo and the other southern states. According to a staff member of the Sao Paulo state assembly's Human Rights Committee, over 300 incidents of neo-Nazi inspired violence have occurred since 1992; 204 of those incidents occurred in Sao Paulo state. However, Jewish community representatives report that they were not aware of any violent incidents directed at Jews. A human rights activist who monitors the Internet indicated that the number of neo-Nazi sites has decreased over the past year. However, one group recently posted an 11-page list of public figures who are allegedly Jewish and in control of the country.

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.

In November 1998, a meeting was held between Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs Stuart Eizenstat, a member of the country's Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Property, and members of Sao Paulo's Jewish community in order to request an update of the Commission's investigations.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999