Cano Iguana, Venezuela Deep in the jungle, Indians wearing loincloths and beaded necklaces gather in a hut to hear their leader question why the American missionaries who help them are being told to leave the country.
The missionaries have been here for years, offering Bible lessons, helping cure the sick and painstakingly learning the Indians' language. Now, President Hugo Chavez says their U.S.-based evangelical group has links to the CIA, and he ordered all missionaries working with the New Tribes Mission to leave Venezuela.
Four American families assigned to live in Cano Iguana say they hope to stay but are preparing for the worst in case they are evicted. During 18 years among the Joti Indians, missionary Susan Rodman said she and her husband, Dave, have raised three children, learned to deal with the isolation and battled bouts of malaria.
But for others in Venezuela, these foreign evangelists stir deep suspicions.
The New Tribes Mission, based in Sanford, Fla., has settlements in remote, mineral-rich tracts of Venezuelan rain forests located far from the surveillance of authorities.
Chavez - who has repeatedly claimed the United States is plotting to invade his oil-rich country - two weeks ago ordered New Tribes missionaries to leave, accusing them of exploiting indigenous communities and having links to the CIA through "imperialist infiltration."
No official order has reached the group yet, but one missionary family at Cano Iguana has already begun pulling out.
In addition, more than 200 foreign Mormon missionaries transferred out of the country a week ago, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints citing visa troubles for some of them.