Venezuela’s regime embraces ultraconservative religious movements

Churches and political groups are opposing women’s rights and the LGBTQ+ community with the government’s approval

People participate in a demonstration against the non-discrimination bill and in defense of the traditional family, in Caracas, Venezuela, on July 13, 2023.Gaby Oraa
Florantonia Singer

Conservative movements are gaining momentum in Venezuela, driven by misinformation and conspiracy theories. After a large gay pride march in Caracas of over 30,000 people in July, counterprotests by evangelical churches and other groups received government support for their defense of what they call God’s original design for the family.

In late July, protesters traveled on buses to Caracas from all over Venezuela, accompanied by sound trucks and dance groups. They erected a massive stage in a downtown square in front of the National Assembly building. ”We are making history,” said a woman atop a truck motivating the protesters, most of them members of evangelical churches. Legislators from the United Socialist Party and Caracas Mayor Nahum Fernández addressed the crowd and promptly agreed to one of their demands. Going forward, religious groups will be consulted on any legislative initiative related to the family, despite the secular nature of the Venezuelan state as mandated by its constitution.

Demonstrators at the rally for traditional families in Caracas.Gaby Oraa

Johana Ruiz, a 35-year-old teacher and member of an evangelical church, sees the Bible as comparable to a national constitution. “There’s this biblical principle — God created male and female to form the basis of family. We want to pass down that vision to future generations. We can’t afford to let go of the original design, because that’s how it’s supposed to be,” she said, walking along Mexico Avenue towards the National Assembly building. Pastor Joel Prieto was also in the crowd with several members of his congregation. “We hope this message reaches the higher-ups, so they will honor what God established from the very beginning,” said Prieto.

The debate has intersected with comprehensive sexual education, which certain groups now want to remove from schools. Prieto said, “Straying from the original design for men and women will bring confusion and perversion that will eventually lead to chaos.” That’s why he says that schools should teach “the correct subjects.” The demonstrators also oppose a bill prohibiting all forms of discrimination. Proposed by the ruling party, the bill was approved in March after the first round of debate.

In this polarized environment, two messages are frequently echoed on WhatsApp groups and social media. The first one rejects the “gender ideology” that allegedly contradicts biological facts, often used to argue against demands by women and LGBTQ+ communities for equal rights. The second message condemns the United Nations’ Agenda 2030, a global plan of action with 17 sustainable development goals. Critics argue that this plan advocates ideas that are deemed immoral, specifically when it comes to sexual education.

Linda de Márquez, a pastor and political scientist, marched with the banner of a pro-family organization that focuses on enlisting support from legislators in every Venezuelan state and aspires to establish a municipal network. She has met with Ministry of Education officials and representatives from the National Assembly’s commission on families. Márquez has posted videos denouncing official school textbooks depicting several types of couples. “Tell me if that represents what the Venezuelan family is like,” she declares. For over five years, her organization has been advocating against initiatives like same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of abortion. These demands have so far been ignored by the government.

A step back

The ruling Chavista regime has been recently building bridges with evangelical churches as part of a political strategy for the upcoming 2024 elections. Nicolás Maduro Guerra, the president’s son, has developed closer relationships with evangelicals by providing church supplies, financial bonuses and even radio stations to broadcast their preaching. However, there are also opposition leaders, including pre-candidates for the October 22 primaries, such as conservative Catholic Roberto Enríquez, who have expressed similar views and have advocated for a “national front against gender ideology.”

Venezuela homofobia
An anti-LGBTQ+ banner during the rally in Caracas, Venezuela.Gaby Oraa

The surge in these groups is deeply troubling for those dedicated to protecting sexual and reproductive rights in Venezuela. They see the removal of sex education from schools as a perilous move in a country with the third-highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Latin America: 97.7 per 1,000 youths.

“This situation is happening in Venezuela within a political and electoral framework, and it’s something that should be unequivocally condemned. The lasting consequences of these divisive attempts, especially when they involve exploiting children, are really troubling,” said Suzany González, Executive Director of the Center for Sexual and Reproductive Rights Studies. “But it feels like our political class is more focused on getting votes rather than upholding people’s rights.” González points out that countries that have been teaching sex education for decades have significantly improved their sexual and reproductive health indicators.

Mercedes Muñoz, a researcher and founder of the Venezuelan Association of Alternative Sexual Education, warns that adolescents will not learn that “it’s their right to demand accessible contraceptive methods, and women shouldn’t be dying during childbirth like in the Middle Ages.” Muñoz says that pornography becomes the source of information for young people regarding topics not covered in school or at home.

Dr. Lila Vega, a highly experienced medical professional, also believes that teachers should address sex education in schools. “There will always be resistance. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have flat earthers, right?” she said. However, the educational shortcomings in Venezuela pose an additional challenge. Many students only attended school two or three days a week in the past year due to difficulties in maintaining operational schools. “We need inclusive schools and better education and information, so that young people don’t just follow the worldviews of their parents and grandparents,” said Vega.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo

¿Quieres añadir otro usuario a tu suscripción?

Si continúas leyendo en este dispositivo, no se podrá leer en el otro.

¿Por qué estás viendo esto?


Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo y solo puedes acceder a EL PAÍS desde un dispositivo a la vez.

Si quieres compartir tu cuenta, cambia tu suscripción a la modalidad Premium, así podrás añadir otro usuario. Cada uno accederá con su propia cuenta de email, lo que os permitirá personalizar vuestra experiencia en EL PAÍS.

En el caso de no saber quién está usando tu cuenta, te recomendamos cambiar tu contraseña aquí.

Si decides continuar compartiendo tu cuenta, este mensaje se mostrará en tu dispositivo y en el de la otra persona que está usando tu cuenta de forma indefinida, afectando a tu experiencia de lectura. Puedes consultar aquí los términos y condiciones de la suscripción digital.

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS