Sunday, August 28, 2005
CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug. 26 (Reuters) - Venezuela's government temporarily suspended permits for foreign missionaries on Friday, four days after the American evangelist Pat Robertson called for the assassination of President Hugo Chávez.
The chief of the Justice Ministry's religious affairs unit, Carlos González, said Friday that authorization of permits for missionaries would be curbed while the government tightened regulations on preachers inside Venezuela.
The permits "are suspended for a short time, it could be three or four weeks, while we organize a system to see what additional data we need for people coming into the country to preach," Mr. González said.
"We were already working on this, but these declarations have made us speed things up," he said.
Mr. Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition, said Monday on his television program, "The 700 Club," that if Mr. Chávez "thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it."
He added: "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop."
He retracted his comments on Wednesday, saying he spoke in frustration over Mr. Chávez's constant accusations that the Bush administration was trying to overthrow or kill him. American officials have repeatedly dismissed those charges as wild rhetoric.
On Friday, Mr. Chávez said that President Bush would be to blame if anything happened to him after the comments by Mr. Robertson.
"He was expressing the wishes of the U.S. elite," Mr. Chávez said at a public event. "If anything happens to me, then the man responsible will be George W. Bush. He will be the assassin."
He said, "This is pure terrorism."
Relations between the two countries have soured since Mr. Chávez survived a brief coup in 2002 that he says was backed by the United States. American and Venezuelan officials have since frequently traded accusations.
In a sign of deteriorating ties, Mr. Chávez recently suspended cooperation with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, accusing its agents of spying.
The United States then revoked the visas of three top Venezuelan military officers it said had been suspected of involvement in drug trafficking.