Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez gained free reign of the country this week, causing concerns among the Christian community, with whom the controversial leader has a history of bad relations.
“We know he’s not a friend of the church in his country,” said Todd Nettleton, director of news service for Voice of the Martyrs, according to Mission Network News on Thursday.
“So, you just look at the evidence and you look at the past and you look at who Hugo Chavez’s friends are, it’s got to make you nervous if you have Christian workers in Venezuela,” said Nettleton.
Venezuela’s National Assembly, composed entirely of Chavez’s supporters, unanimously voted on Wednesday to give the Venezuelan president power to legislate by decree, which essentially gives him free rein of the country.
It is anticipated that with his new power, Chavez will propel the country towards his vision of a socialist state. Critics have said his new power makes him an authoritarian with unchecked power.
Among Chavez’s critics are some Catholic leaders, with whom the president has a long history of hostility, often erupting into verbal sparring matches.
Recently, Chavez said a priest critical of his government was bound for hell.
In response, Monsignor Roberto Luckert commented, “It seems he’s going to hell, too.”
Chavez – who had said if he didn’t enter politics he would have liked to be a priest – also drew fire in January for calling Jesus and Fidel Castro his socialist models.
Christian leaders against Chavez’s leadership say they fear Venezuela is moving towards a communist state, which will result in the lost of freedoms.
Chavez had tried to ease fear by reassuring there will be no infringement on freedoms and that, “Christianity is essentially socialist, so no one – no Christian, no Catholic – should be alarmed,” according to The Associated Press.
With his new power, Chavez will be able to carry out his plans to nationalize Venezuela’s largest telecommunications company and the electricity sector, impose new taxes on the rich, and enforce greater state control over the oil and natural gas industries.
“It'll be interesting to see if there are changes towards Venezuelan national Christians and the Venezuelan church itself now that Hugo Chavez has taken these powers," commented Nettleton. Although he said religious freedom is not getting worse in Venezuela, he urged Christians to pray for Chavez to have a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ which will lead to changes in Venezuela and the world.