October 12, 2005

Chavez kicks out U.S. 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, a former paratrooper who says his socialist
revolution counters U.S. influence, briefly suspended foreign
missionary permits in August after U.S. evangelist Pat
Robertson called on Washington to assassinate the left-wing
leader. Robertson later apologized.

"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, and besides they
exploit our indigenous people," he said. "We don't want to
abuse them, but simply give them a date to pack up and leave."

He did not say when the missions would have to leave
Venezuela and offered no proof for his allegations.

Chavez, who is praised by supporters for championing the
poor, was speaking at a ceremony in southwestern Apure State to
hand over land titles, tractors and credits to help indigenous

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 Web site.

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

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
Cuban President Fidel Castro to erode regional democracy.

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