Jews of Venezuela, the new Diaspora • By ELEONORA BRUZUAL I am a journalist. For decades I have devoted myself to politics, and during that time I followed the perversions of what was wrongly called a “progressive Left” that has partnered with the worst of humanity. That pseudo-idealism masked the most nefarious of tyrannies, and became a collaborator with sociopaths. Behind this political Left was an unscrupulous man, obsessed with power, who put no limits on himself and had no moral restraints. That man was Hugo Chavez.
In Chavez’s view, the country’s history was divided into the period before and after the military coup that brought him to power. He was a classic Latin American caudillo from the mountains, in that after attempting to overthrow the constitutionally elected government of Carlos Andres Peres on February 4, 1992, he clothed himself with pseudo-democrats; financial support, media and ambition all paved his way.
He destroyed a democracy very democratically.
Hugo Chavez had a lot of help. Fate put forward two sinister characters that encouraged the poisoning of his mind. One was Fidel Castro, the Cuban tyrant, and the other was Norberto Ceresole, an Argentinian sociologist who served as Chavez’s ideological underpinning and instilled in him a feverish combination of militarism and frightful anti-Semitism.
By way of Castro and Ceresole, Chavez moved on to other dangerous liaisons, such as with Iran, Islamic terrorists and other anti-Semites.
Always lurking in the background was irrational hatred that kept adding more and more victims to the Chavez regime. He concentrated his hatred against the small, industrious and educated Venezuelan Jewish community.
The Jewish presence in Venezuela dates from at least the 17th century, although it is assumed that with the Spanish conquest between 1498 and 1510 some Sephardi Jews came to Venezuela seeking freedom in the New World.
The oldest Jewish cemetery in the Americas is in Coro, Venezuela’s most northwestern city, and Jews fought alongside Simon Bolivar during our independence struggle from Spain.
An increased Jewish presence came in the 20th century, with the arrival of hundreds of immigrants from Europe. Only in 1939 did Venezuela offer asylum to 251 Jews who arrived on a “Boat of Hope” and the “Königstein” ships fleeing Europe. Many members of the community today descend from these immigrants.
The number of Jews in Venezuela is not easy to define; opinions vary. When Chavez became president in 1998 there were thought to be 20,000, although others, such as Professor Sergio Della Pergola, a researchers at the Hebrew University, claim the number was closer to 14,000- 18,000. These included Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The Confederation of Associations of Israelites in Venezuela ( CAIV ) has reported that the numbers today are half what they were pre-Chavez.
Other say the decline has been as high as 70 percent due to the hostile climate of Chavez’s “revolution.”
BUT NOT only the Jews are gone. Venezuela, a country made up of many immigrants who came to find their dreams, has now become a country of exiles, emigres fleeing hatred enshrined in a political strategy by Chavez and his heirs’ virulent speeches. Venezuela is one of the most insecure places in the world in terms of crime, and Caracas is the second most violent city in the world. This is why people of all faiths emigrate. Chavez devoted himself to attacking and harassing Jews, through violent means and against corporations, education institutions and synagogues, against Jewish businessmen and academics.
This spread panic through hatred and anti-Semitism. I can identify 10 journalists from the official media who were dedicated to denigrating Jews, spreading Holocaust denial and even blaming the Jewish community for various diseases. The perennial harangue has borne fruits. Even the criminal underworld, which was a supporter of the revolution, is charged with murdering and terrifying Jews – and 90% of murders, kidnappings and robberies do not result in criminal charges, or if they do, do not result in convictions.
The government was concerned only with expropriating and harassing, and Jews were the target of these attacks. Many recall scenes of a crazed Chavez cursing Israel.
Nicolas Maduro, his successor, has expelled Israeli diplomats and adorned himself with a kaffiyeh. While walking down a street one time, he turned and ordered the expropriation of a building where dozens of jewelers, many of them Jews, worked.
The owners were thrown out on the street.
The harassment of Christians and Jewish businessmen is blatant. I cannot forget the blackmail and pressure applied to Solomon Cohen, an engineer, academic and builder. One of his buildings, the Sambil of La Candelaria, in a popular area of Caracas, was expropriated with the excuse being that it was to be used for the “benefit of the community.” Today it is destroyed, looted and abandoned.
Our Jewish brothers in Venezuela have emigrated by the thousands, many of them to Miami, others to Spain, Panama, Peru, Costa Rica, Chili and Mexico. Some have made aliya. Throughout the world they still manage to sit for Shabbat, several generations together, and dream of rebuilding their lives. They know that hatred did not cease last year on the 27th of January when the National Assembly unanimously approved an agreement in memory of Holocaust victims – when Chavistas in parliament devoted the occasion to slander and demonization of Israel on the grounds that they consider it to be committing a genocide.
Those who read this will understand why many have left, and why they are haunted by painful memories of the anti-Semitism that Venezuela wears today.
The writer is a Venezuelan journalist @ eleonorabruzual Translation: Hernán Rubín and Jerusalem Post staff.