Church leaders are taking precautions in some South American countries to protect missionaries and Church property against terrorist activity aimed toward foreigners.
Security has been increased following damage to two meetinghouses in unrelated incidents in Bolivia and Chile, and plans made several weeks ago to lower the profile of American missionaries in Peru and Bolivia are being implemented this week. (See related story on page 3.)According to leaders, the number of missionaries in the seven missions in the two countries is being reduced to 180, the ratio of local missionaries to Americans is being adjusted to 70-30, and each American will have a local missionary companion.
In Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the meetinghouse of the Hamascus Ward was dynamited July 10, ripping eight doors off the hinges, destroying the front entrance, and breaking windows, said Pres. Erwin Birnbaumer of the Santa Cruz Paraiso stake. Santa Cruz is a tropical city about 325 miles east of La Paz.
He estimated damages at $16,000, and said police guards have been hired to watch the building and others in the city.
Otherwise, "everything is functioning as normal," he said.
In a country where such bombings are unusual, Bolivian newspapers have publicized the event and originally conjectured that the bombing is related to the shooting deaths of two missionaries in La Paz in May. The Church has been on the front pages of Bolivian newspapers for a month, said observers.
Police said the bomb used at the meetinghouse was planted, and later detonated by electronic means. No group claimed responsibility for the bombing, unlike the pattern customary with the Zarate Wilka Liberation Front group that claimed responsibility for the shooting deaths of the missionaries. Rather, the bombing may be similar to bombings that occur more frequently in Peru amid increasingly unsettled economic conditions.
In Chile, seven unidentified masked gunmen raided a meetinghouse in the Santiago Chile La Florida Stake on July 4, setting a fire that destroyed stage curtains, a sound system and damaged some ceiling tiles, according to Church leaders. Damage was estimated at $12,000.
Police said the men held 14 people in the small chapel in the La Florida suburb south of Santiago at gunpoint and then threw a firebomb. The main structure was not damaged.
The incident was described as a typical Fourth of July crime, and believed to be the work of political extremists. The number of such incidents has significantly decreased in recent years, said leaders.
Local observers said the work of the terrorists in both countries was aimed against foreigners, and not specifically against the Church. The pattern of terrorist activity is more against outsiders, such as tourists, rather than anything else, they said.