Mormon God Worries
missions leave Venezuela over safety worries
Tue Oct 25,
2005 7:41 PM ET
By Patrick Markey
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - More than 200 Mormon missionaries have left Venezuela due to security worries two weeks after President Hugo Chavez ordered a U.S. evangelist group expelled for spying, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
U.S. Ambassador to Caracas William Brownfield said the Mormons left Venezuela at the weekend, a fortnight after Chavez ordered out the New Tribes Mission evangelists on charges they were linked to the CIA and had abused indigenous groups.
"Most of them, almost 100 percent, are young between 18 and 19 years old and they decided that the security issue was a little complicated," Brownfield told reporters.
"Hopefully this doesn't produce an image or perception that there is a lack of tolerance in Venezuela because that would be the wrong image," he said.
A U.S. Embassy official confirmed 219 missionaries had left Venezuela.
Chavez, a self-styled socialist who often attacks the U.S. government and its foreign policies, briefly suspended foreign missionary permits in August after conservative U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson called on Washington to assassinate him.
His government ordered the New Tribes Mission to leave Venezuela a few days after Robertson again attacked Chavez, accusing him of funding Osama Bin Laden and seeking atomic material from Iran. Venezuela dismissed the charges as absurd.
U.S. officials have rejected the New Tribes Mission spying charges and urged dialogue with the group. Authorities have not said when its members would have to leave Venezuela.
The Florida-based Christian evangelists have worked in Venezuela for 59 years preaching to Indian groups and translating scriptures into their native languages.
The mission incidents are the latest to test fraying relations between United States and Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter and a key supplier of petroleum and fuel to the huge U.S. market.
A former army officer elected in 1998, Chavez has promised to bring revolution to Venezuela with reforms for the poor. He says his policies are an alternative to failed U.S. capitalism and accuses Washington of plotting his overthrow.
U.S. officials have repeatedly denied those accusations as propaganda aimed at his power base among the poor. They charge Chavez and his ally Cuban leader Fidel Castro are trying to undermine democratic governments in the region.
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