Chavez to Expel New Tribes Mission

From the BBC:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said he is about to expel a US missionary group, New Tribes Mission.

The leftist leader said the group were “imperialists” and that he felt “ashamed” at their presence in indigenous areas of Venezuela.

He accused the Florida-based group of making unauthorised flights and setting up luxurious camps amid poverty.

…New Tribes, he said, flew in and out of the country without proper permission from the authorities.

New Tribes Mission (NTM) was founded in 1942. According to its website:

New Tribes Mission continues to trust God, and God continues to be glorified. Today more than 3,000 missionaries serve throughout the world, and training programs in more than a dozen countries prepare missionaries for service among the thousands of tribes who have yet to hear.

It is currently planting “tribal churches” in 18 countries. It has been a source of controversy in Venezuela for many years, although the group can probably thank Pat Robertson’s recent attacks on Chavez for its expulsion. Nikolas Kozloff of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs noted last month:

Though New Tribes Mission did not put out an official statement about the Robertson controversy, [Resource Director David Zelenak] says Robertson‘s strong words “did not help us in Venezuela.” Indeed, Robertson‘s offensive hardly stands to benefit New Tribes, which has fallen under attack in the past and presents a vulnerable target.

Kozloff’s article includes a lengthy and polemical history of NTM’s activities in the country. NTM arrived in 1946, and received official recognition from a military government in 1954. As the group progressed, it gained

…a staff of more than 150 including missionaries, linguists, pilots, engineers, technicians and others. It also had its own communication network. By 1980, God’s soldiers had 2 Bible institutes, 6 basic training camps, a linguistic institute, a radio station, a medical center, and a housing complex for retired missionaries. Even more impressive, New Tribes built 29 air strips from which their light aircraft fleet operated. The airstrips and settlements all fell under their exclusive control. According to one investigator, “not even the armed forces can easily use those airports. In fact, the runways are constructed for specially equipped planes that can land on extra short runways.”

Claims followed that the NTM was politicising the Indians and creating a “state within a state”; complaints from Indians about the undermining of their traditions also received wide attention:

For some prominent government figures, the issue of New Tribes and the abuse of indigenous peoples had become a matter of national pride. Simon Alberto Consalvi, the former Venezuelan chancellor, remarked that “The accusations about what is happening in Amazonas and some other Venezuelan regions…constitute a recurring theme. This is not a superficial matter…It’s not a secret to anyone that light aircraft go and come without oversight. Some time ago I accompanied the Mexican chancellor to a beautiful place in the Venezuelan Guayana. I was greatly surprised (certainly not very agreeably), when a Venezuelan Indian began to speak in English as if we were a group of tourists. The Indian was surrounded by Bibles…I had the impression that I was in some place in California, where they invent religions and cults in bulk.”

NTM was also accused of espionage, in conjunction with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (a major Bible translation outfit); the group was actually expelled from Colombia for allegedly helping transnational companies find strategic deposits. The controversy continued in 1980s:

The story of New Tribes Mission refused to die. In August 1981, Jose Vicente Rangel, then a deputy in Congress, requested that the investigation into New Tribes be reopened…He personally wrote the introduction to a book attacking New Tribes Mission, remarking on that occasion, “What this is fundamentally about is a security problem and national defense. It’s about the abandonment of immense frontier territory.” Rangel went on to praise those who had campaigned against New Tribes, which, in his opinion, had set up a colonial enclave in the country.

Rangel is currently Venezuela’s vice president.

UPDATE: NTM responds to the charges. Agape Press reports:

…We’re a nondenominational, evangelical Protestant mission,” Zelenak asserts, “and our focus there [in Venezuela] is to work in areas of literacy training, Bible translation, and church planting. We also do community development. We have no connection whatsoever with any political organizations.”


Meanwhile, some Venezuelan groups are voicing support for NTM and denouncing President Hugo Chavez’s order to expel the missionaries. According to AP, Jose Kayupare of the Puinare tribe rejects Chavez’s claim that New Tribes Mission is part of an “imperialist infiltration” that exploits native communities.

Kayupare told the press “the majority of indigenous people” in Venezuela’s jungles “don’t support” and “are not going to accept under any circumstances” Chavez’s ordered expulsion. Kayupare says New Tribes has often helped Indian communities ravaged by malaria and other diseases, airlifting the sick to medical care after the government had abandoned them.

2 Responses

  1. Hi,

    Obviously the NTM has a lot to explain about their “not so legal” activities around the World.

    I remember years ago -1987 or so- the Bolivian Congress presented a request for the immediate expulsion of the New Tribes Mission (NTM), and others from the indigenous communities of the Bolivian Amazon Basin.

    Maybe a google search could found some abuses related to the NTM. I’ll do some googling just to explore the matter; maybe I’ll revisit.

    Interesting site you have here… I like the links.


  2. Great Kozloff article, thanks Bartholomew.

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