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

Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, as long as the practice of a religion does not threaten public order or violate good custom, and the Government respects this right in practice.

The Office of Religion is the government office responsible for maintaining a registry of religious groups, disbursing funds to the Roman Catholic Church, facilitating the travel of missionaries and religious officials, and promoting awareness and understanding among the various religious communities. Each local church must register with the Office of Religion in order to hold legal status as a religious organization and to own property. The requirements for registration are largely administrative. However, some groups have complained that the process of registration is slow and inefficient. In 1964 the Government and the Holy See signed a concordat that underscores the country's historical ties to the Roman Catholic Church and provides government subsidies to the Church, including to its social programs and schools. In 1998 the Government provided over $2 million (approximately 1.1 billion bolivars) in subsidies to the Catholic Church's schools and social programs. Other religious groups are free to establish and run their own schools, which do not receive subsidies from the Government.

According to the latest government figures, approximately 75 percent of the population are Roman Catholic, approximately 18 percent are Protestant, and the remaining 7 percent practice other religions or are atheists. There are small but influential Muslim and Jewish communities. The capital city of Caracas has a large mosque, and the country's Jewish community is very active. According to the Government, Protestant churches are the country's most rapidly growing religious community.

There are approximately 4,000 foreign missionaries working in the country. Foreign missionaries require a special visa to enter the country, which is obtained through the Office of Religion. Missionaries are not refused entry generally, but many complain that the Office of Religion often takes months or years to process a request.

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 various religious communities are amicable.

There are numerous ecumenical groups throughout the country.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy maintains close contacts with the various religious communities and meets periodically with the Office of Religion. The Ambassador meets regularly with religious authorities and the Embassy facilitates communication between U.S. religious groups and the Government. The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

The Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom describes the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, and government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. It is submitted in compliance with P.L. 105-292 (105th Congress) and is cited as the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

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