October 12, 2005

Chavez kicks out US evangelists for ‘spying’

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez on Wednesday ordered U.S. New Tribes evangelical
missions working with indigenous groups to leave the country
after accusing them of "imperialist infiltration" and spying.

Chavez, an ex-soldier who says his socialist revolution
counters U.S. influence, briefly suspended foreign missionary
permits in August after U.S. evangelist preacher Pat Robertson
called on Washington to assassinate the left-wing leader.

"I have given the order, the New Tribes, the so-called New
Tribes, are going to leave Venezuela. This is real imperialist
penetration, it makes me ashamed," Chavez said, wearing a green
military uniform and red army beret.

"It's real imperialist infiltration, the CIA, they are
taking sensitive and strategic information," he said. "We don't
want to abuse them, but simply give them a date to pack up and
leave from every corner of the country."

A former military paratrooper praised by supporters for
championing the poor, Chavez was speaking at a ceremony in
southwestern Apure State to hand over land titles, tractors and
credits to help indigenous groups.

The Florida-based New Tribes Mission, a Christian
evangelist group that trains and coordinates missions to preach
in remote areas, has 160 assigned missionaries in Venezuela
working with 12 indigenous groups, according to its Website.

No one answered the U.S. telephone number on the site.

The announcement came just days after Robertson, a leader
of the Christian conservatives who have backed U.S. President
George W. Bush, again attacked Chavez, accusing him of funding
Osama Bin Laden and seeking atomic material from Iran.

Venezuela officials rejected the new accusations as
"absurd" talk.

Chavez has often charged Washington with plotting his
downfall or murder. U.S. officials dismiss that as wild,
populist rhetoric, but say the Venezuelan leader works with his
ally Cuban President Fidel Castro to erode regional democracy.

Frayed political ties and a constant barrage of angry
rhetoric have not stopped Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil
exporter, from selling most of its petroleum to the United

The deep political rift between Venezuela and the United
States was underscored in August when Robertson called on U.S.
officials to kill Chavez. He apologized, but not before
sparking a media storm.

Soon after that outburst, the Venezuelan Justice Ministry
suspended authorization of good office permits for foreign
missionaries while the government investigated and tightened
regulations on preachers living in Venezuela.