INDEX TERMS Religion|Moonies,
Sun Myung Moons Brazilian project;
Sun Myung Moons religious project;
JARDIM, MATO GROSSO DO SUL
Brazil is the scene of the Unification ex-church s latest enterprise
DISAPPOINTED in the United States, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon has chosen a remote corner of Brazil as the latest launchpad for his dream of uniting the world behind his divine leadership.
Near the Paraguayan border in Brazil s sparsely populated inland state of Mato Grosso do Sul lies the town of Jardim. It s a dusty no-place of 20,000 people. Yet near to it the 78-year-old multi-millionaire Korean founder of the Unification church, a controversial religious sect with a worldwide business empire, has found what he calls his Garden of Eden. He is so taken with it that he is busy buying 800 square kilometres (310 square miles) of farmland.
Within its ant-hills and cattle pasture, Mr Moon plans to build a flourishing new community, called New Hope, creating jobs by building hotels, new roads, even an airport. He has already spent $25m on land and two dozen buildings, including classrooms, dormitories and a 2,000-seat dining hall. “Reverend Moon s idea is to show the world how to end hunger and bring world peace,” says Yoon Sang, New Hope s president. “Brazil is a big country, with unlimited resources&Mac247;enough to feed all Latin America and the starving people of Africa.”
Moonologists take a different view, seeing New Hope as the latest, maybe last, bizarre entry in the reverend&Mac226;s long history of spiritual and financial ventures. Mr Moon has lived in the United States since the 1970s. His empire there includes the Washington Times, a nationwide cable- TV channel, a Connecticut university, a recording studio and travel agency in New York, a horse farm in Texas, a golf course in California, and a seafood business in Alaska. But he is disillusioned, says David Bromley, a sociologist at a Virginia university who has studied the Unification church for more than 15 years.
In the late 1970s Mr Moon was briefly jailed over a tax matter. Recently a former wife of one of his sons published her version of that marriage, claiming her ex-husband had abused her and been addicted to cocaine. Mr Bromley says such problems have badly hit the church&Mac226;s following, which is down to about 3,000 on one estimate. “His membership here has dwindled, so he is pulling resources out and putting them where he can make more of a splash.” Mr Moon has criticised the United States as “the kingdom of free sex” and “the country that represents Satan s harvest.”
His energies now appear to be focused on Latin America. He commutes between Brazil, his mansion in New York and a luxurious estate in Uruguay. His organisation already owns newspapers in South America, a bank and a hotel in Uruguay, and large land-holdings in Argentina and Brazil. At the 1996 launch in Argentina of Tiempos del Mundo, a Spanish version of his Washington newspaper, ex-President George Bush called Mr Moon “a man of vision.” New Hope, which he discovered on a fishing trip in 1994, might be just the place to make a splash: it lies on the edge of the lush Pantanal, a still vast though endangered wetland. But what sort of a splash? For the vision is changing.
Mr Moon s organisation has lately shed much of its spiritual identity, to concentrate instead on such issues as family values and world peace. Indeed it recently dropped the word “church”, renaming itself the Association of Families for Unification and World Peace. When Hideo Oyamada, continental director of the association, calls New Hope “the real centre of the Americas,” it is not millions of potential converts that seem to interest him but its proximity to markets in Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay.
As a business proposition that is pie in the sky. Ranchers in Mato Grosso do Sul were only too eager to sell him their uncultivated land. Jardim s citizens were more than happy to accept his largesse. Large it was: Mr Moon has not spared expense in winning friends. New Hope regularly opens its doors to the locals, laying on free barbecues. Mr Moon offered new ambulances to 32 local mayors. He is also said to have provided a helicopter to one candidate in the recent state-governorship election.
Jardim residents know little about the Moonies. Brazil has plenty of bizarre groups of its own, such as the miracle-working and money-raising Universal church, and the media have given little coverage to the newcomers. The only disapproval has come from the local Roman Catholic church. “Moon says Jesus Christ was a failure because he was single and had no children,” says a Jardim priest, Father Bruno Brugnolaro. “I don t think he knows much about the Bible.”
Father Bruno says he knows of no converts won by the Moonies. Indeed locals seem more interested in Mr Moon s money than his beliefs. So far, almost all New Hope s students are from Japan or Korea; and only a handful have shown up from Brazil, the United States or Europe. Moony missionaries have recently been kicked out of Venezuela and Honduras, allegedly for violating visa regulations.
Nor does New Hope s economic future look secure. Mr Moon s South American empire already has its troubles. His Banco de Credito in Uruguay was recently put under central-bank supervision. Neither his newspaper there, Ultimas Noticias, nor his 5-star Montevideo hotel, the Victoria Plaza, have thrived. And Mr Moon s much heralded plans to build a large industrial complex on the outskirts of the Uruguayan capital, complete with a car plant and a deep-water port, appear to be heading nowhere.