The constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition that the practice of a religion does not violate public morality, decency, or public order. A 1964 concordat governs relations between the government and the Holy See and provides the basis for the government’s payments to the Catholic Church for education programs.
The Directorate of Justice and Religion (DJR), which is accountable to the MOI, is charged with maintaining a registry of religious groups, disbursing funds to religious organizations, and promoting awareness and understanding among religious communities. Each religious group must register with the DJR to acquire legal status as a religious organization. Registration requires declaration of property belonging to the religious group, identification of any religious authorities working directly for the group, and articles of incorporation. Religious groups are required to demonstrate how they will provide social services to their communities and must receive a letter of acceptance from the government-controlled community council in the neighborhood where the group will work. The MOI reviews applications and may delay approval indefinitely. Religious groups must register any new statutes with the DJR.
The law provides for Catholic chaplains to minister to the spiritual needs of Catholics serving in the military. There is no provision for other religious services in the military.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Several religious groups reported difficulties in identifying appropriate individuals within the DJR to handle their registration applications and were thus unable to register or had their registrations delayed. High civil servant turnover at the DJR contributed to delays in some cases. At the end of the year, the MOI had not approved new internal statutes of the Evangelical Council of Venezuela (ECV), although the application had been submitted approximately four years earlier. ECV sources stated the MOI withheld approval because it objected to the presence of the New Tribes Mission (NTM) within the Council. The NTM has been banned from the country since 2005 when then-president Hugo Chavez expelled them. In August, the ECV formally denounced the application process as unconstitutional and discriminatory.
The ECV stated the government continued to favor religious organizations amenable to its policies. According to ECV sources, in 2014 the government hosted a meeting in the wake of political violence, but only invited those evangelical churches perceived as supportive of its policies. From that time, religious leaders said the government policy had not changed and those pro-government religious groups received a heightened profile, particularly in government-controlled media. Church leaders perceived as politically active said their organizations were sidelined. For example, some religious groups perceived as pro-opposition were excluded from government-organized events or disregarded by government-run media outlets.
In February, individuals broke into the house of El Hatillo Mayor David Smolansky, a vocal opponent of the government and well-known member of the Jewish community. The intruders stole a computer, among other items, and painted a Star of David on a wall. Although Smolansky asserted that the primary motivation for the act was political, rather than religious, he held the government to be ultimately responsible for creating an environment of intolerance.
During an informal United Nations Security Council meeting on the Palestinian people and anti-Semitism in May, Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Nations Rafael Ramirez asked if Israel was seeking “to wage a final solution” against the Palestinians, which many observers interpreted as a direct connection to the Nazis’ “Final Solution” policy. He later apologized to Israel’s U.N. envoy and said he regretted his remarks and said he stood against any form of anti-Semitism and fully respected the millions of victims of the Holocaust.
Jewish leaders stated criticism of Israel in government-owned or affiliated media was frequently anti-Semitic. Many of the articles in question were reprints from HispanTV, an Iranian government-sponsored outlet. TeleSur regularly published articles by blogger Pablo Jofre Leal, who accused Israel of ethnic cleansing, compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Hitler, and referred to Israeli leadership as Judeo-Nazi. In March, several government-affiliated outlets published an interview in which Jehad Yusef, a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, compared Israeli government activity in the West Bank and Gaza to the Holocaust. In August, the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela (CAIV) condemned the magazine Las Verdades de Miguel for its anti-Semitic undertones. The cover of the weekly magazine, which has a circulation of 5,000, had a caricature of an Orthodox Jew and blamed individuals of “Israelite origin” for a corruption scheme in the Foreign Exchange Administration Commission. In La Razon, an independent media outlet, Ambassador to Qatar Julian Rivas published articles accusing the United States and Israel of a global colonialist conspiracy, and used the term “Anglo-Zionism.”