Christians across Latin America are facing increasing levels of religious persecution from governments as well as drug cartels and gangs that perceive churches as a threat to their power, according to a leading Christian advocacy group.
“We tend to think of Christian persecution as something that happens ‘over there,’ thousands of miles away,” David Curry, CEO of Global Christian Relief, a Santa Ana, California-based nonprofit that serves persecuted Christians worldwide, was quoted as saying in an April 14 news statement issued by the charity.
“We need to stand with our brothers and sisters in Jesus who are suffering in these areas of the world through prayer and support and let them know they are not alone,” added Curry, who is also a commissioner for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal government body that advises the State Department and issues annual reports on global religious freedom.
Across Central and South America, governments are denouncing church activities, cracking down on clergy and church officials, and forcing churches to comply with new laws aimed at curtailing their missionary work, said the news statement.
It cited a study reported by the Catholic News Agency in June 2022, which detailed at least 190 attacks, desecrations and incidents of police harassment in Nicaragua. Titled “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church? (2018-2022),” the study was conducted by Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, an attorney and member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory, a Latin American civil society organization.
In February, the Nicaraguan government led by President Daniel Ortega put 222 political prisoners on a plane and expelled them to the U.S., the report said, adding that Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez was one of the prisoners who was supposed to be on the flight but wasn’t. “Álvarez refused to leave and has been sentenced to 26 years in prison,” the report explained.
Nicaragua, the report pointed out, is currently on the State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” list for “severe violations of religious freedom.”
In Mexico and Colombia, Christians are often the victims of human trafficking and threats by drug cartels and gangs, according to the report.
“The situation for followers of Jesus is deteriorating very rapidly, especially in the countryside,” Curry said. “For example, Christian farmers in Colombia who refuse to grow the coca leaf face some of the most intense persecution in the world—death by drug cartel.”
Meanwhile, in rural areas, Christians frequently run into conflicts with locals whose beliefs in ancestral worship and folk religions clash with Christian faith.
In Communist Cuba, Christians have to contend with a regime that champions an ideology hostile to religion and which seeks to curb the influence of the church, noted the report. The government often refuses requests to register new churches, besides fining and confiscating the property of those who lead worship in unlicensed house churches.
“Violence continues to explode across Latin America, with almost no area getting any better,” Curry said, adding: “Religious liberty is in many places non-existent or under great pressure.”
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.