Moonies build a new Garden of Eden in Brazil's fertile cowboy country

Phil Davison
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:02

THE REVEREND Sun Myung Moon is building an airport in Jardim, a remote west Brazilian township, to entice planeloads of visitors to his "new garden of Eden".

Now that the Cold War is over, the head of the Unification Church, colloquially known as the Moonies, is finding that his star has faded in the United States and he is looking to pastures new.

"America doesn't have anywhere to go now," Mr Moon said in a speech in New York earlier this year. "The country that represents Satan's harvest is America, the kingdom of extreme individuality, of free sex."

So now you might find him in Jardim - where he is constructing a mini- country, with dozens of theme cities - or in nearby Uruguay or Argentina, rather than his pounds 6m New York mansion or his farm in Texas.

Mr Moon has an impressive list of friends - Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Augusto Pinochet. Not bad for a man who insists Jesus Christ was the product of an adulterous affair. But then Mr Moon is convinced he is the new Messiah, the Chosen One.

His political friends, even such ardent Christians as the three mentioned above, were prepared to ignore such idiosyncrasies so long as the South Korea-born self-styled spiritual leader supported their common cause - the battle against Communism. His church indirectly supported such "causes" as the Central Intelligence Agency-backed Contra guerrilla war against Nicaragua's Sandinistas.

Attending the launch of Mr Moon's Spanish-language newspaper in Buenos Aires, Mr Bush called him "a man of vision". But now the man who has lived mostly in the United States for the past three decades, at his peak gathering up to 30,000 followers and renowned for his mass marriages of thousands of Moonie couples, has turned away to look for new pastures.

Mr Moon still owns the right-wing Washington Times newspaper, once Mr Reagan's favourite read, a cable television channel, a university in Connecticut, a Manhattan travel agency and a golf course in California. He also has investments in ginseng, the arms industry in Korea and the computer business in Japan.

But his influence has dwindled since he was jailed in the US in the late Seventies on charges of tax evasion. Parents of young men and women who fell under his spell - his insistence that he was "the true father" who could unite all churches since Christ, he said, was born out of an extramarital relationship - increasingly saw him as a charlatan who was brainwashing their children. Many employed psychologists who could bring them back to reality.

He still insists he has millions of followers but realistic estimates suggest there may be only 3,000 - a tenth of the figure at his late-Seventies peak.

After Mr Moon lost a son in a high-speed car crash, a daughter turned against him. Then, last month, the wife of another son - and his potential heir - published a book billing him as a fraud and accusing her husband of abusing her while addicted to cocaine.

Mr Moon is still smarting from a string of failed projects, including ambitious land purchases in Africa and a car-manufacturing project in China. In recent years his followers have been kicked out of several strongly Catholic Central American nations, including Guatemala and El Salvador, for "bad manners", a euphemism for proselytising in the streets while on tourist visas.

Venezuela recently barred his followers from any religious activities for the same reason. In Uruguay, where he also owns the newspaper Ultimas Noticias and the five-star Victoria Plaza hotel, his bank, Banco de Credito, was recently put under the control of the Central Bank after management and liquidity problems. He says the US has nowhere left to go, but the Rev Sun Myung Moon may himself be running out of road.

Hence the move to what the 78-year-old Mr Moon considers fertile ground for his dream of building "a kingdom of heaven on earth, a new Garden of Eden", in the unlikely cowboy country of western Brazil, three and a half hours' rough drive from the nearest city. He reportedly discovered it on a fishing trip, attracted by its location at the confluence of the Prata and Miranda rivers. It reminded him of Mesopotamia, the ancient cradle of civilisation built on the Tigris and Euphrates.

It also reminded him of a kind of Jurassic Park. "If Spielberg came here, he'd be surprised. There are species that are 35 million years old," his regional director, Hideo Omayada, told a visiting reporter from the St Petersburg Times newspaper of Florida.

"Brazil big country. Unlimited resources. Enough to feed all of Latin America and the starving people of Africa," said Kim Yoon Sang in broken English. He is a leader of Mr Moon's new project in Jardim, which is in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. "He have idea to show world how to end hunger. Our intention is a family, no a religion."

After a drive along pot-holed roads and across muddy rivers, his latest enterprise comes in sharp contrast to the rest of the remote countryside. More than 100 local workers are building a mini-country, called "New Hope," which will include more than 30 "theme cities", each one dedicated to something constructive within Mr Moon's dream of educating and feeding the world. One will concentrate on eco-tourism, another on handicrafts, others on various crops.

So far, the project looks a bit like a university campus under construction, with classrooms for studying Mr Moon's ideas, a theatre and a 2,000-seat cafeteria. His organisation, although it has now dropped the "church" reference to call itself the Association of Families for Unification and World Peace, is buying up 200,000 acres of farmland, at about $500 (pounds 300) an acre, from farmers glad to get the money.

A local Catholic priest, Bruno Brugnolaro, is not so welcoming. In a country where the traditional Catholicism is increasingly being undercut by evangelical churches from the US or elsewhere, he is clearly concerned as to Mr Moon's motives. "How can he talk about family when he has been married several times?" he told the Florida newspaper.

Fr Brugnolaro said the Unification movement did not appear to be making progress among the local Brazilian farmers or their families, who at first looked on their arrival with bemusement and later with delight after the Jardim project created jobs and a potential tourist influx.

Mr Moon has been winning friends and influencing local politicians, reportedly lending them his helicopter, inviting them to eat on his premises and purchasing a fleet of ambulances for the township of 20,000 people. But most of those who have begun arriving for spiritual seminars and to help build up the project have been from Japan or Korea.

"At first, they [the locals] misunderstood us. They thought we were drug- dealers or looking for gold or diamonds," Mr Omayada said. Commenting on the bureaucracy of buying land under what he called Brazil's "medieval" system, Mr Omayada said: "Brazil very difficult. Big country. Small mind. We try open up. This land very poor, but very fertile. Like Garden of Eden."

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