WASHINGTON (February 6, 2015)—In response to an increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric and religious discrimination in Latin America, the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) and the U.S. Department of State launched a “Believe in Tolerance” (Cree en la Tolerancia) project in spring 2014. So far, hundreds of people in a dozen countries have participated in local events and online workshops to better understand myths and stereotypes about religious groups.
PADF also worked with civil society organizations in Argentina and Venezuela to document the use of anti-Semitic expressions in online media. They found 1,537 anti-Semitic user comments in major online news sources between October 2013 and May 2014.
In recent years, intolerance for religious diversity has been primarily reflected through graffiti and on social media, which can provide a certain level of anonymity, says Luisa Villegas, director of PADF programs in South America. This is particularly true in Argentina and Venezuela, where international observers say anti-Semitic rhetoric and activities have been on the rise.
“Social media is sort of the new frontier,” says Villegas. “Intolerance can be spread beyond national borders and exacerbate existing tensions in some environments.”
More recently, PADF partnered with MTV Latin America’s “Agents of Change” (Agentes de Cambio) campaign to hold a regional contest. Religious communities and individuals across Latin America were asked to submit ideas for an initiative that would foster religious tolerance.
The winner is Pantokrator, a unique “heavy metal rock” church in Bogota, Colombia. The church will host a unity concert on February 8, 2015 in celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week (Feb. 2-8, 2015, details below).
“MTVLA invited youth in Latin America to unite and foster religious tolerance in the shape of a proposal,” says Mario Cáder-Frech, Vice President Public Affairs & Corporate Responsibility for Viacom International Media Networks – The Americas. “We are compelled to bring about change in the youth community and enable them to express their ideals and beliefs freely without repercussions. Our objective was and will continue to be to motivate young people to stay informed and continue to create religious tolerance,” says Cáder-Frech. “That way, little by little, we can stop stigmatization in society. In the end we all want to create a world were religious groups are tolerated and where they inspire positive change.”
PADF’s “Cree en la Tolerancia” web site serves as a clearinghouse for information related to religious tolerance—including anti-Semitism—in Latin America. The site also includes a series of educational resources for raising awareness about issues related to religious intolerance.
Religious Intolerance in Latin America
According to the Anti-Defamation League, 41 percent of people in Colombia hold anti-Semitic views. In Venezuela, it is 30 percent and 24 percent in Argentina. Across the Americas, 25 percent of the population has not heard of the Holocaust.
World Interfaith Harmony Week
World Interfaith Harmony Week is held during the first week of February since 2011, after the Resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2010. This initiative developed by the UN and the democratic governments around the world encourages dialogue between different faiths and religions in order to promote greater harmony, understanding and cooperation among people of different religions.
Pan American Development Foundation
Hearly G. Mayr
Director of Communications and Public Affairs