Politicized nativity scene stirs controversy in Venezuela

From Osmary Hernandez, for CNN

(CNN) - As far as Christmas traditions go, nativity scenes are generally quite similar, though local customs often find their way into such montages.

But one nativity scene in Venezuela has sparked controversy for what critics say overstepped the lines of taste, religion and politics.

The display in question is located inside the concourse of a group of residential and business towers in Caracas, placed there by employees of the country's ministry for women.

The manger where Jesus will sleep is featured, of course, and Joseph stands next to it, in traditional Venezuelan garb. But nearby stand the additions that critics find disconcerting: small figurines depicting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, South American liberator Simon Bolivar and Ali Primera, a political activist and Venezuelan songwriter.

The manger scene is small in comparison to the surrounding models of houses representing all the social programs that Chavez has put in place since coming to office in 1999.

"No one ordered us to put up the figure (of Chavez)," said Yazmina Hereu of the women's ministry. "No one ordered us to do it, it was born in our hearts."

To Chavez supporters, the nativity scene is an innocent combination of the historic and the contemporary.

Celso Pallares, another employee of the women's ministry, explained that he was the one who hand-crafted the figures and that others painted them and placed them on the nativity scene.

The controversial montage includes a number of traditional Venezuelan touches, including Angel Falls, the national bird and tree, and a representation of indigenous communities.

The inclusion of Chavez, whose followers are ardent, is probably not that rare, said Margarita Gomez, a spokeswoman for the women's ministry.

"In the hills, in our slums, these nativity scenes are common. What happens is that the media does not go there, but this is our reality, this is what we live day-to-day," she said.

In addition to representations of the social programs, the montage includes figures of mass transportation systems created by Chavez's government and the rail system, which has been expanded.

Still, mixing the political with the religious is too much for some.

"The important thing is baby Jesus - that is the tradition of every year," said Caracas resident Carmen Reyes. "Leave the politics aside."

Read the original article at CNN Belief Blog  2011-12-21 »

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