Venezuela (MNN) — Venezuela's Congress Wednesday gave
initial approval to a bill granting President Hugo Chavez powers to rule by
decree for 18 months as he tries to force through nationalizations key to his
self-styled leftist revolution.
Voice of the Martyrs Todd Nettleton says, "President
Hugo Chavez is gaining almost dictatorial powers over that country. He will be
allowed to stay in office as long as he wants and basically rule the country by
Chavez forced a U-S based mission organization out of tribal
areas last year. Right now it's unclear what this will mean for national Christian
workers in Venezuela, but Nettleton says Chavez doesn't have a good
track record. "Chavez is very fond of Fidel Castro. We know he's not a
friend of the church in his country. So, you just look at the evidence and you
look at the past and you look at who Hugo Chavez' friends are, it's got to make
you nervous if you have Christian workers in Venezuela."
Voice of the Martyrs doesn't have work in the country
yet, Nettleton says, "It hasn't been a country where we say Christians are
persecuted, what we would identify as a restricted nation. Now, obviously that
could change. That's something we evaluate each year."
While Nettleton wouldn't say religious freedom is getting
worse there, he did say, "It's definitely not on the upswing. 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
Nettleton says the best thing Christians can do right now is
pray. "Pray that Hugo Chavez will come into a personal relationship with
Jesus Christ. What an impact that could have, not only on that country, but on
the world, if this man would say, 'I'm now a follower of Christ.' It would
change the way he governs. It would change that country."