Catholic and evangelical leaders reported cases in which government customs agents retaliated against religious groups in similar ways as with others for perceived criticism. They stated pro‑government groups did not experience similar delays. Evangelical leaders stated they were unable to take possession of donated vehicles after customs agents withheld the vehicles for months and then charged additional fees disguised as taxes that were too high to pay. Evangelical leaders also reported customs agents in February withheld clearance on radio transmission equipment donated to a religious radio station and were still holding it at the end of the year. Catholic groups reported at least two shipping containers of donated food and medicine expired while retained in customs due to agents’ delays in granting import clearances.
Catholic and evangelical church leaders reported the government provided or withheld financial support and tax and utility subsidies for individual churches based on the political affiliation of the church’s clergy. Church leaders reported cases in which church tax exemptions were not honored or delayed based on political statements made by clergy.
The government continued to require public school civics curricula on Christian values and required students and school staff to participate in government‑sponsored religious events, such as Catholic festivals. Teachers and families who opposed this policy were reportedly classified as political opposition and sometimes excluded from government assistance programs.
One evangelical official stated the government showed preference toward the Catholic Church, discriminating against evangelical groups. Other evangelical leaders stated it was hard to generalize regarding the entire evangelical community, given the large number of evangelical denominations. In remote communities without access to public education, the government provided limited subsidies to religious schools. Evangelical leaders stated the government provided larger subsidies to Catholic schools in underprivileged communities than to evangelical denominations. According to information reported by independent newspaper La Prensa, direct national budget subsidies to both Catholic and evangelical groups decreased significantly since 2007. According to a research study, both Catholics and evangelicals were able to lobby for additional funding from individual members of congress who had assigned budgets for social projects in their constituencies. The study indicated Catholic groups received greater appropriations than evangelicals through this source of funding.
Catholic leaders stated the government’s use of Catholic language, tradition, and symbols to promote its political agenda violated their religious authority. The government also continued to require community participation in government‑hosted religious festivities. The government duplicated Catholic celebrations and festivals, despite Catholic Church disapproval of this practice. The government required attendance by government workers to staff the politico‑religious events, leaving them unable to attend the official Catholic Church celebrations. For the festival of the Immaculate Conception, government institutions were required to set up altars in the city streets and distribute free goods. Senior Catholic and evangelical leaders continued to express concern over what they said was the government’s use of retired Catholic clergy and Christian religious statements and symbols to promote its ideological and political agenda and officiate at government‑sponsored politico‑religious events. In the run‑up to the 2016 national elections the government continued to use religious language in daily press conferences in connection with official issues; government‑sponsored billboards throughout the country and posters in government offices portrayed images of the president with the slogan “Christian, Socialist, and in Solidarity.” Evangelical leaders stated they found it offensive when Catholic Church language was used for government‑sponsored politico‑religious events, and Catholic leaders made similar comments regarding the use of evangelical imagery.