NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Voters in Venezuela narrowly defeated a massive slate of constitutional changes that would have allowed President Hugo Chávez to run for re-election indefinitely and given him broad powers to implement his program of “21st-century socialism.”
In a series of public appearances prior to the Dec. 2 referendum, Chávez’ ex-wife, Marisabel Rodriguez, urged voters to cast their ballots against the proposals, which would have given Chávez the authority to implement social controls like those in Cuba or the former Soviet Union. “This fight is not against a single person,” she told the Associated Press. “This struggle is against the danger posed by leaving a person in power for a long time.”
The defeat “almost certainly heralds the beginning of the end of Mr. Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution and its influence in Latin America,” an editorial in The Economist magazine noted. “It was not so much Mr. Chávez who was defeated in the referendum, as his bankrupt philosophy. That is good news for Latin America, and especially for its poor.”
Opponents of the proposal conducted public rallies that drew large crowds. Many individuals sported T-shirts bearing the slogan, ‘Por que no te callas?” (“Why don’t you shut up?”) -– a retort Spain’s King Juan Carlos made to Chávez in mid-November after the Venezuelan dictator repeatedly called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar a “fascist.”
“The king said what Venezuelans have wanted to say to Chavez’s face for a long time,” a 21-year-old student in Caracas told the Associated Press. “I’m wearing this T-shirt to protest everything bad that has happened in the country.”
The confrontation between Juan Carlos and Chávez was captured in a video posted on YouTube.com and the king’s words began appearing on T-shirts and mugs in Spain and Venezuela. A ringtone of the king’s retort reportedly generated more than $2 million for the companies selling it, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.
BURNHAM KIDNAPPERS GET LIFE SENTENCES — Fourteen members of the Abu Sayyaf Islamic militant group were sentenced to life in prison Dec. 6 for a 2001 hostage taking that resulted in the death of New Tribes Mission worker Martin Burnham.
Burnham and his wife, Gracia, were among 20 people kidnapped in the Philippines and held captive in the jungle for more than a year. Mr. Burnham died during a military rescue effort. The trial was held four years ago, when a guilty verdict would have resulted in death sentences. The Philippines president repealed the death penalty two years ago.
Gracia Burnham says she has forgiven her kidnappers and prays for them daily. “God has forgiven me much, so I think it’s my responsibility to forgive others. I would just like more than anything for these guys to hear the Gospel of Jesus while they’re in jail,” she told Mission Network News. “I’m glad they weren’t sentenced to death and they have a chance to think about what’s happened to them in jail. I would love for them to hear about the forgiveness of Jesus.”
‘GOD DELUSION’ PUBLISHER MAY FACE CHARGES — A Turkish citizen has lodged a complaint against Richard Dawkins’ atheist manifesto, “The God Delusion,” claiming the book insults religious people. The book’s publisher may face prosecution under laws that make it a crime to “insult Turkishness” and “stir hatred.”
The complaint asks that the book be banned and the printer punished, publisher Erol Karaaslan told Reuters news service. Six thousand copies of the book have been produced in Turkey. At one point in the book, the Oxford University biologist says the religious training of children is child abuse because they cannot think for themselves.
One survey of 34 countries identified Turkey and the United States as the countries most skeptical of the theory of “macro-evolution,” which asserts that complex natural organisms emerged by chance over extremely long periods of time. The majority of residents in Turkey accept the Bible and Koran’s explanation that God created the world, and many scientists argue that evolutionary theory cannot explain the emergence of complex life forms from simpler forms.
HOLY LAND’S ONLY CHRISTIAN TV STATION CLOSES — Nativity Television, the only Christian television station in the Holy Land, has been forced to shut down for lack of funding. Known in Arabic as “al-Mahed,” the 11-year-old station broadcast a mix of Arabic-language church services, films and talk shows out of a studio near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The station owner, Samir Qumsieh, is a Greek Orthodox Christian who has been an advocate for the Christian community in Bethlehem, which has been declining in number for several years. He said Christians are leaving the West Bank because of economic problems and pressure from Islamist groups. By one estimate, the Christian population of Bethlehem stands at about 40 percent today, down from about 90 percent in the 1940s. Unemployment stands at about 65 percent.
“Emigration is our great nightmare,” Qumsieh told the Guardian Unlimited news service. He said he would now look for work abroad, just like his four brothers had done.
TURKEY MARTYR TRIAL TO BEGIN JAN. 14 — Five men accused of murdering three Christian workers in Turkey this past spring are going to stand trial for the crime. Necati Aydin, 35, Ugur Yuksel, 32, and German national Tilmann Geske, 46, were murdered April 18 at the Christian publishing house they ran in Malatya.
The defendants are accused of tying up the three men, torturing them and slitting their throats, and they face life sentences if convicted. The trial was to have already begun but was rescheduled to Jan. 14 after defense lawyers asked for more time to prepare their case.
“If the killers are allowed to simply get away with lesser charges, or it’s seen that these murders were somehow justified on the basis that these Christians were involved in missionary activity, then Turkish Christians are certainly going to feel that they’re not equal members of society, and that their religious activities are going to continue to be under threat,” said Glenn Penner of Voice of the Martyrs Canada in an interview with Mission Network News. “There have been a number of attacks on evangelicals in the last two years, and they’re wanting to know, ‘Will our government stand up for us? Will they defend us? Or will they allow us to be shot, killed and attacked with impunity?'”
Despite religious freedom reforms enacted to help Turkey join the European Union, there is no sign religious freedom is increasing, Penner said. The Turkish constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but locations for worship services are restricted and members of minority religions face harassment, threats and prison.
Mark Kelly is a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn.