Mormon Church says it is pulling missionaries out of Venezuela due to visa problems |

Mormon Church says it is pulling missionaries out of Venezuela due to visa problems

CARACAS, Venezuela – The Mormon Church, citing difficulties with the government of President Hugo Chavez in renewing visas or obtaining new ones, said Wednesday it is pulling its foreign missionaries out of Venezuela and reassigning them to other countries.The decision comes nearly two months after the government said it was temporarily suspending the granting of visas for foreign missionaries and two weeks after Chavez said he was booting U.S.-based New Tribes Mission from the country, accusing it of links to the CIA.The U.S. Embassy said 219 American Mormon missionaries left the country over the weekend. Spaniards and Colombians where also among those who left, said Vivian Angulo, a church spokeswoman in Caracas. She said there were few foreign missionaries, if any, left in Venezuela.”The visa situation is one reason they are leaving,” Angulo said. “It’s also due to the rotation of foreign missionaries who have finished their work here and will be replaced by Venezuelans.”But U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield told local Union Radio on Tuesday that the security factors also contributed to the church’s decision.”The security situation is complicated,” Brownfield said, without elaborating.”I’m sorry they are leaving,” Brownfield told Union Radio. “I think it’s important to have that kind of people-to-people contact.”However, the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not cite security among its reasons for leaving.Angulo said some of the missionaries who left returned to Canada and the United States, while others transferred to other Spanish-speaking countries.She said there had been about 500 missionaries in the country – including both foreigners and Venezuelans – before the departures.The Mormon Church said in a statement that it has “experienced difficulties over the past few months in renewing visas and obtaining new visas for U.S. missionaries in Venezuela.”Venezuelan officials did not immediately comment on the departures of foreign Mormon missionaries, or the current status of its visa policies for foreign missionaries.Venezuela announced in August that it was temporarily suspending the granting of visas for foreign missionaries, but denied the measure was specifically aimed at Americans. That came after U.S. religious broadcaster Pat Robertson called for Chavez’s assassination. Robertson later apologized for that remark.New Tribes, based in Sanford, Fla., denied it has links to the CIA and said it hopes to resolve its status in Venezuela. Brownfield also said he hopes “the differences can be resolved through dialogue.”Chavez has said New Tribes missionaries working with Indian groups were gathering “strategic information” on mineral resources. The group’s representatives denied it.The expulsion of New Tribes missionaries has raised tensions between some church groups and Chavez’s “revolutionary” government, which is closely allied with Cuba and is frequently critical of the United States. But Angulo said Mormon missionaries were not leaving due to conflicts with Chavez’s government.”It doesn’t have anything to do with politics, or what the president has said recently,” she said.The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established its first official congregation in Venezuela in 1966. Its members – estimated at more than 128,800 in Venezuela – have been involved in efforts to improve living condition for Venezuela’s poor majority while preaching to the people.”The things we do to help – such as literacy programs to help inmates at local prisons learn to read and sending medicine to mothers with newborn babies – will not be affected by the visa situation,” Angulo said. “We will continue doing God’s work.”Vail, Colorado

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