There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom. However, those religious groups that criticized the government, like others who criticized the government, were subject to harassment and intimidation. Government actions limited access to some religious sites. There were some efforts by the government to limit the influence of religious groups in certain geographic, societal, and political areas, and instances of anti-Semitism in government-controlled media.
On September 17, in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon in support of Palestinian statehood, President Hugo Chavez criticized Israel for committing “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinians and called Zionism “racism.”
On July 31, the government-owned newspaper Diario VEA published an opinion piece by journalist Basem Tajeldine that called Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik a “Sabbath goy,” a non-Jew who assists Jews in activities that are prohibited from being performed on the Sabbath, for having killed “pro-Palestinian activists” as part of the “global strategy of international Zionism.”
On July 14, a court sentenced six of 11 defendants to 10 years in prison for the 2009 vandalism and desecration of the Tiferet Israel synagogue in Caracas. The trial of the remaining five defendants began on July 15 and continued at year’s end. The defendants were accused of conspiracy, aggravated theft, concealing weapons, religious disrespect, and embezzlement.
Jewish community leaders publicly expressed concern about government support for anti-Semitic expressions in public buildings and government-controlled media. For example, in April the Ministry of Science and Technology hosted a pro-Palestine exhibition with displays that claimed the creation of Israel was part of a “genocidal plan” by “Aryan Zionist Jews” who wanted to “ethnically cleanse” the land of the native Palestinians. The exhibit compared pictures of the West Bank security barrier and an Auschwitz gas chamber.
On May 24, Jewish leaders filed a formal protest with the Prosecutor General’s Office over the “incitement to hate” contained in an April 4 broadcast on the government-owned Radio del Sur in which the station’s director, Cristina Gonzalez, promoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a “must-read.” On May 9, the government announced that Gonzalez had been replaced as the director for unspecified reasons, but she continued to host two programs on the state-owned Radio Nacional de Venezuela.
Like other private sector and nongovernmental entities, religious communities were subjected to property expropriations as well as invasions by squatters. Government authorities responded inconsistently. Refugees forcefully occupied Mormon chapels in Ocumare del Tuy, Charallave, and La Grita with government support. The local police seized the properties and turned them over to the Ministries of Nutrition and Sports. The government returned the property in Charallave by year’s end and donated painting supplies to refurbish the building, but the mayor of Ocumare del Tuy refused to return control of the seized chapel even though the refugees were relocated. Local police continued to guard and restrict access to the property. Refugees still occupied the property in La Grita, but religious services were allowed on Sundays for local members.
On May 30 a group of squatters to whom the local mayor previously had promised housing occupied a building owned by the Jewish community. The building, which had rental apartments undergoing renovation, also housed the Beit Abraham synagogue. The synagogue was not desecrated, and the police evacuated the squatters in a peaceful manner.
The government increasingly restricted the issuance of religious visas, especially for visiting priests and religious teachers. It also continued to limit Venezuelan or foreign missionary groups from working in indigenous areas.