The U.S. State Department concluded in its annual religious freedom report released Wednesday that Venezuela is not a safe place to be a Christian due to the widespread attacks on churches by the Maduro regime and its paramilitaries.
In their Report on International Religious Freedom 2019, analysts concluded that repeated harassment and intimidation from government militias, often referred to as colectivos, have damaged religious freedom in a relatively religious country where 98 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic or Protestant.
“Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders stated the de facto Maduro government and its aligned groups disrupted church services, attacked churchgoers, and destroyed church property,” the State Department noted. “Representatives of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Venezuela (CEV) and the Evangelical Council of Venezuela (ECV) said the government harassed, intimidated, and retaliated against their clergy and other members for continuing to call attention to the country’s humanitarian crisis.”
The report goes on to cite incidents where colectivos used violence against churches and worshippers they deemed as hostile to Maduro’s socialist regime:
According to Archbishop Jose Luis Azuaje, on January 27, a group of colectivos forced their way into Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Church in Maracaibo, Zulia State during Mass. The colectivos attacked and injured approximately 15 worshippers inside, fired their weapons, defaced and destroyed church property, and confiscated items of value. Azuaje said police officers stationed nearby did not intervene during the attack.
Other victims of religious persecution also include the country’s Jewish community, as the regime’s anti-semitism often masquerades as fervent opposition to the state of Israel. This has often involved Maduro and other socialist officials linking their opponents, including Venezuela’s rightful president Juan Guaidó, to supposed Jewish-run plots aimed at undermining their authority.
Maduro is closely allied to various anti-semitic rogue states, including the governments of Iran and Syria. He has also developed a relationship with Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The report noted that Jewish Venezuelans have reason to fear the Maduro regime for its elevated anti-semitic rhetoric, including attempting to smear President Juan Guaidó, who Maduro has refused to allow to govern, by claiming he has ties to “Zionism.”
“Representatives of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela (CAIV) said criticism of Israel in Maduro-controlled or -affiliated media continued to carry anti-Semitic overtones, sometimes disguised as anti-Zionist messages,” the report noted. “They said de facto government-owned or -associated media and government supporters again denied or trivialized the Holocaust, citing media reports of Maduro’s comparing sanctions against Venezuela to Nazi persecution of Jews.”
Despite growing evidence of religious persecution, Maduro has previously declared himself as a committed Christian, often weaponizing the Easter and Christmas holidays to promote a false sense of unity. He has also vehemently denied allegations of antisemitism by claiming to have Jewish heritage. In 2017, he sparked condemnation after comparing members of the country’s democratic opposition to Nazis while describing supporters of his regime as “the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler persecuted.”