2004-07-15 18:51:00
Embassy Caracas
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C O N F I D E N T I A L CARACAS 002252 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/12/2014

Classified By: Abelardo A. Arias, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission,
for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d).


C O N F I D E N T I A L CARACAS 002252



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/12/2014

Classified By: Abelardo A. Arias, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission,
for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d).


1. (C) The GOV is catering to evangelical Christians, who
make up nine percent of Venezuela's population, to build the
support base of President Hugo Chavez and to win the August
recall referendum. Some Evangelicals have plugged into
Chavez's coffers and his social message, at times reflecting
an anti-USG bias. Chavez himself sympathizes with
Evangelicals, and at least once claimed to be one. Like many
his efforts to incorporate segments of Venezuelan society
into Chavismo, Chavez's attempt to win over Evangelicals is
poorly planned and executed, based more on payoffs than
conviction. End summary.

Evangelicals in Venezuela

2. (C) Evangelicals estimate their numbers at around nine
percent of the population, or fewer than two million
Venezuelans. (Note: Venezuelan Catholics call "Evangelical"
all Christian non-Catholics, including Mormons and Jehovah's
witnesses. Venezuelan Evangelicals use it as a doctrinal
description that includes many mainline Protestant groups
which emphasize aggressive evangelization and
church-planting.) Samuel Olson, President of the Evangelical
Council of Venezuela (ECV),told poloff the number of
evangelicals is not growing exponentially as in other
countries in the region because of Venezuela's historic high
cost of living, which has limited expansion efforts by
foreign missionaries.

3. (C) Olson, a Princeton-trained minister and son of Amcit
missionaries to Venezuela, told poloff June 14 Venezuela's
Evangelical movement is afflicted by "post-modernism," which
he said is characterized by lax personal morals and an
emphasis on money and power. Olson also noted that
Venezuelan Evangelicals adhere to an "apostolic movement" in
which popular Evangelical pastors claim authority over large
numbers of churches (or all of Venezuela),often using titles
such as "Bishop" or "Apostle." Aside from this relatively
new phenomenon, Evangelical churches in Venezuela are largely

independent and only loosely affiliated among themselves or
with foreign religious organizations.

Evangelical Organizations

4. (C) There are three evangelical confederations in
Venezuela that, according to one estimate, incorporate less
than half of the evangelical churches in Venezuela. Unlike
their Catholic counterpart, the Episcopal Council of
Venezuela, the Evangelical confederations do not supervise or
regulate member churches. The confederations mostly advocate
for religious freedom, collaborate on the training of
pastors, and only sparingly wade into doctrinal questions.
The confederations, Olson claimed, try to remain apolitical,
though Venezuela's acrid political environment often forces
responses. For example, Olson was forever branded as an
opposition member when he appeared on stage with other
religious leaders during the events of April 2002 praying for
the victims of the Miraflores slayings. Olson said the
prayer event was carried split-screen with the swearing-in of
short-lived interim President Pedro Carmona, giving rise to
subsequent allegations that Olson had supported Carmona.

5. (C) Olson's ECV was founded in 1964 as a reaction to the
signing of the concordat between the GOV and the Catholic
Church. The evangelicals worried, Olson said, that the
Catholics' relations with the state would prejudice
evangelicals. The CEV currently has 160 members, some of
which, like the Baptists, have hundreds of individual
churches. Olson estimated the CEV represents 4000 individual
churches. Among these members are many groups with U.S.

origins, such as the Baptists and Assemblies of God. Olson,
who has presided over ECV for six years, is frequently
invited to appear with catholic and Jewish leaders at
ecumenical events.

6. (C) The Confederation of Evangelical-Pentecostal Pastors
of Venezuela, with around 90 members and 4000 churches, broke
from the ECV in 1984. Olson claimed the schism came when
some conservative Pentecostal leaders became worried over the
ECV's relations with non-Christian religions. Finally, the
Union of Christian Churches of Venezuela ("Unicristiana") was
formed in the 1990s under the guidance of "Apostle" Raul
Avila, an Argentine who pastors the Christ for the Nations
Center in Caracas, a church that openly supports President
Hugo Chavez. Unicristiana President Elias Rincon told poloff
June 18 the confederation comprises some 200 churches.

Chavez Courting Evangelicals

7. (C) Olson claimed that certain Evangelical ministers have
received large amounts of money for their churches in return
for their support of the GOV. He said he had spoken with ECV
pastors who have been offered housing and pension benefits in
exchange for open political support for Chavez. The state
television station carries two programs -- free of charge --
of popular evangelical ministers (Note: A Catholic priest
also hosts a state television program). State television
also carries GOV ads with images of Evangelical church
services and of the ten commandments and scripture
references. Evangelical Bishop Jesus Ramon Perez, whose
program airs Saturday mornings on state television, denied to
poloff June 16 that he had received large sums of money. He
said his only funding from the GOV came from a work program
in which 300 of his congregation members received grants to
form work cooperatives from the state development bank,
Bandes. (Note: The president of Bandes is Nelson Merentes,
a member of Chavez's Comando Maisanta campaign committee.)

8. (C) Unicristiana's Rincon said his church had received
grants from the GOV to help homeless people in Caracas. He
claimed that more than 300 people had been reintegrated into
regular society via their program, which utilizes Chavez's
social "missions." The homeless people, for example, are
sent to Mission Robinson's literacy and education classes,
and later participate in "Mission Vuelvan Caras" to get job

A Common Cause

9. (C) Bishop Perez described his support for Chavez (he
reportedly called Evangelicals to rally to Miraflores Palace
to support Chavez during the events of April 2002) as one of
a common social agenda. In 1994, Perez signed a "Spiritual
Declaration of Independence" with 600 other Evangelical
pastors denouncing the GOV's rampant corruption and
inattention to the plight of the poor. Perez, who lived on
the streets of Caracas as a child, sees Chavez as an answer
to his prayer. Perez claims the Catholic Church used its
influence with previous governments to persecute
Evangelicals, including falsely imprisoning him in 1999
(press reports say the Bishop was involved in a stolen car
ring operating in his halfway house for drug addicts).

Anti-American Bias

10. (C) Rincon and fellow "Apostle" Ramiro Torres admitted
their church leans toward support for Chavez, and church
teachings have a clear tint of Chavez's social class
diatribe. The church's website, in fact, carries
anti-American (and anti-Bush) stories taken directly from GOV
media sources. Asked why a church website contains only
pro-GOV links and news, the two said it was a question of
justice: private media is anti-Chavez and the church felt

the need to provide balance to its congregation members.
Torres went on to say that the United States is suffering the
"wrath of God" for its immorality, citing same sex marriages
and the invasion of Iraq, which he said his church opposed.
He predicted that the Evangelical Christians of "the South"
would help "the North" find its way.

Chavez: Evangelical For A Day?

11. (C) Claims that Chavez is an Evangelical have surfaced on
several occasions. Chavez himself commented in January 2002
that he was an Evangelical, only to backtrack once the media
began to scrutinize his claims. Perez, who claims to have
had meetings with Chavez, says Chavez had "an encounter with
God" while in prison after his failed coup attempt in 1992.
Perez claimed a group of Evangelicals meet regularly in
Miraflores, though he did not know if Chavez attended the

GOV Denies Evangelical Bias

12. (C) Gonzalo Gonzalez, Director of the Office of Worship
of the Ministry of Interior and Justice (MIJ),told poloff
June 23 that the GOV is not trying to play to Evangelical
interests. He said the GOV is attempting to apply the 1999
Constitution, which guarantees religious expression. The
traditional GOV funding of the Catholic Church (a by-product
of the concordat) is inconsistent with the new constitution,
Gonzalez argued and must be expanded to include other groups.
Evangelical Bishop Perez told poloff the amounts offered by
MIJ are "offensive" in the size of the amounts. (Note: The
money from MIJ is only a portion of the funding the GOV makes
available to churches, as other ministries such as health and
education also fund religious projects.)


13. (C) Chavez's catering to Evangelicals has all the
earmarks of the tendency to seek Bolivarian alternatives to
the status quo, in this case the Catholic Church which is one
of Chavez's greatest critics. Like many Chavista ideas,
however, it seems to be applied with less-than-full
efficiency, targeting a few controversial Chavista ministers
(whom Olson calls "rejects" of traditional Evangelical
groups). Additionally, there is little evidence that the
Evangelicals constitute a monolithic voting bloc that Chavez
and his supporters could readily exploit.