Articles from the September 1997 Unification News

Next! Persecution in Venezuela

by David Stewart-Caracas, Venezuela

It would seem that unfortunately our recent troubles in Venezuela are causing difficulties for other countries in Latin-America, for which we apologize and that, as usual, the media are distorting the facts and telling outright lies. Thus I would like to explain what has happened and the situation as it is of today, September 19. It is most important to understand that legally this attack is only against HSA-UWC, not FFWPU or any other registered organization. Nobody has been expelled or imprisoned and our activities have continued as normal. It should also be understood that this whole affair exploded as our request for the President to make a formal invitation to True Parents was making its way to the President. It started with the Minister of the Interior with whom we recently had a good meeting.

Since I arrived here in February, prior to the recent outburst of persecution, we experienced only one direct attack from the Catholic Church in May of about a strength of 4.5 on the "Moonie" scale of persecution. It was only picked up by a couple of the more gutter-type press. Also historically there has been no persecution of our movement here as to be honest according to local church historians there has been little activity.

Then in the middle of August one young sister, Gioconda, aged 21, appeared at the center with her belongings to "move in". She had been studying the Principle for about 4 months and had sent her photos for matching. Unfortunately she did not follow my direction to receive her parents' permission before moving in. She did 3 days fundraising before her parents appeared at the center at 11.00 pm. Gustavo Giuliano, the national leader, sent her home even though she did not want to go. Her parents then tried to "deprogram" her but as there are no deprogramming specialists in Venezuela they failed with their succession of priests, psychologists etc. She remained at home and we then heard that she left for a holiday. At this point, in early September, her mother started to visit the press, the congress, etc. who were happy to listen to her story of brainwashing, exploitation etc. and she found another negative mother. A few articles started appearing and we decided to respond with a press conference on Sept. 20th, which we had often talked about doing, but had failed to follow through.

Then on Sept. 10 the Papal Nuncio finished his 7 years of service in Venezuela. In his farewell address the Nuncio expressed that his major fear was the "invasion of the sects". The Minister of Justice, who was in attendance, promised to take care of the problem and "secta Moon" was the perfect target, given its recent attention from the media. There was a massive escalation of media attention and an official investigation began, involving police raids on our center and offices with all our members being taken off to make statements. On Monday 15th we were called to the Ministry of Religion (los Cultos in Spanish!) and received an official letter that our church registration had been removed. (We only received it on Feb. 28th of this year, after 22 years!)

In the official letter it said that the church was illegal and prohibited, but to us the Minister, with whom we had a very amicable meeting in mid-June, said that merely our registration number had been removed and that we should appeal by then end of the week. It was clear that he did not know that over 110 of the Japanese sisters had left the country, and the illegality of the sisters was the main reason given to the foreign media (through Reuters) for the removal of our registration. He had told us in our earlier meeting that it was illegal for them to witness on a tourist visa. It would seem according to the words of the Minister of Justice that this is actually incorrect and we are researching the legal rights of a tourist, but clearly we responded to his words and the sisters left completely legally.

There were many strange points about the formal letter: 1) The letter was addressed to Citizen Sun Myung Moon, and not to the President of the Church. 2) The letter was dated August 28th, but they only called us on Sept. 15th. 3) The accusation against us based on a very vague clause in the Constitution and did not mention the supposed visa violation of the Japanese sisters. 4) The legal time for appeal is 15 days, not by the end of the week as the Minister said. 5) This information appeared in all the media before we were informed (OK, this is not so strange)

At this point it was clear that our situation was much more serious. There was also another twist in that one very righteous congressman with many enemies had helped us to register the Church and his wife's name appeared as one of the founding members. He also helped a controversial Gnostic Church of Colombian origin to register and is always being accused of being its founder in Venezuela. His enemies used the chance to connect us and use us to attack him to the full in the media. Indeed the most negative article today, the 19th, was basically attacking him.

So, based on this congressman's advice we hired a very aggressive lawyer. (He looks like a combination of a stereotype of a prize fighter of old and a bulldog.) Bruce Casino's law firm in Washington DC also called to advise our lawyer and to say they would help from that end. (Clinton is due to visit Venezuela in October and already the Venezuelans are in trouble over their trade policy towards the USA being less friendly than towards say Britain or Germany. So they definitely do not need an issue of religious liberty floating around.) We also received excellent advice from Jesus Gonzalez in Uruguay and the SCWP immediately invited the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington to their event to "educate" him about True Parents. (Thank you to all who are helping us.)

Our lawyer immediately set to work making appeals to Fiscal General, a kind of government watchdog, and to the Congress. Meanwhile the police continued their work and the mothers became more and more outrageous. One mother said that the members had to eat bread with the brother's sperm and sister's urine on it. (A kind of absolute sex communion, or a variation on Lady Dr. Kim's urine therapy?) On the 18th the police called me to interview and then interviewed Gioconda, whose faith remains strong. At this point they had obviously heard enough and announced that they had terminated their inquiry. Today El Nacional, a daily in Caracas with the second largest circulation in the nation reported that: La PTJ no detect' delitos cometidos por secta Moon. Todavia no se sabe si hay un trasfondo aunque "sus principios son de car'cter noble", dijo el jefe de la Divisi'n Contra la Delincuencia Organizada, Nerio Rengifo. (The police did not find any crimes committed by the Moon sect. We still do not know if any there is anything wrong, though "their principles are of noble character", said the chief... Nerio Rengifo.) It has been interesting that the police have no effort to interview the Japanese sisters who remain in the country. They just interviewed 2 who happened to be in our house when it was raided and they are both totally legal residents. The address where the others are living appeared in the newspapers, but the police never visited.

At the same time the local legal counsel for the FFWPU, a very positive contact who had been to Uruguay made a few important visits including one to the Secretary of the President's Administration who apologized for the mistreatment of our movement and promised to use his influence to stop the persecution.

The end result is that today the amount of negative press reduced drastically. One paper that led the attack against us in May and has been none to friendly recently published a positive interview with the President of FFWPU, a Korean doctor and longtime Venezuelan resident whose office walls are full diplomas, photos with VIPs, such as Bush and former Venezuelan Presidents. He also has an impressive record of going to serve the Indian people in the Amazons. Tomorrow a paid article will appear in the major daily from our side. We postponed our press conference to be seen to be absolutely following the law and will do it next Tuesday or Wednesday when our lawyer has finished the process of protecting us legally.

We are confident to regain our church registration. The media was may be more difficult, but on Monday the most popular early morning TV show will be about our movement and an excellent recent graduate of UTS and his mother will represent our side. His sister is a PMC and works as a doctor and the parents are also a PMC and are both very successful professionally. Hopefully this will stimulate the media not to drop us, but rather to listen and report our side of the story, rather than just dropping the issue.

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