Venezuelan intellectuals speak out on anti-Semitism flap

From the AP, via Israel’s Ha’aretz, Jan. 22:

CARACAS – Hundreds of Venezuelan intellectuals expressed “shock and consternation” in a public condemnation Saturday of allegedly anti-Semitic remarks made recently by President Hugo Chavez.

“These dangerous tendencies must be denounced and combatted before our society loses its humanity,” the group of 250 intellectuals, writers, artists, journalists and others said in a full-page letter published in the major Venezuelan daily El Nacional.

Chavez in a Christmas Eve speech last month said: “The world has enough for all. But it turned out that some minorities, descendants of those who crucified Christ, descendants of those who threw Bolivar out of here and also crucified him in their own way in Santa Marta, there in Colombia, a minority took the world’s riches for themselves.”

Chavez did not specifically mention Jews. Simon Bolivar led the 19th century fight to liberate Latin American nations from Spanish rule.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center shortly afterward accused Chavez of anti-Semitic remarks and demanded a public apology. Chavez rejected the criticism as a misinterpretation of his comments and accused the center of representing the “imperialist” policies of the U.S. government with which he often clashes.

Historian Manuel Caballero, one of the promoters of Saturday’s condemnation, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that he was worried about a possible “radicalization” of Chavez’s government.

He called the remarks a “fairly clear allusion” against Jews and said the same tendency was seen in Chavez’s former adviser, Argentine Norberto Ceresole, who was known for his openly anti-Semitic views. Chavez maintained close ties with Ceresole before his election to the presidency in 1998 but later distanced himself.

Simon Bolivar University professor Maruja Tarre, who signed the letter, said Chavez’s remarks were part of his continuous discourse of “very strong anti-Semitic comments.”

National Assembly President Nicolas Maduro called the condemnation “garbage,” calling it part of a U.S. campaign against Chavez.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the group have said that Chavez’s comments were classic characterizations leveled against the Jews regarding the accumulation of wealth and the crucifixion of Christ.

Venezuela’s local Jewish community, however, has backed Chavez’s claims, saying he was misinterpreted by people who don’t understand Venezuela.

The Information Ministry responded sharply to the condemnation, accusing those behind it of “a lack of intellectual honesty” and being part of a “privileged caste without authority.”

Some of those who signed are frequent, outspoken critics of the Chavez administration.

The advertisement was paid for by the signatories and anonymous donors, Caballero said.

Chavez, who frequently expresses his devotion to Christ but has battled with Catholic clergymen here critical of his policies, says he wants to have good relations with all religious groups.

An anti-Chavez “Background Briefing” by Manuel Caballero, “The Eight Big Lies of Chavez Propaganda,” appears on, “Official Website of Venezuela’s Military Resistance Movement for Freedom and Democracy.” “We are advancing toward the establishment of a…military dictatorship,” he warned in 1999. (Salt Lake Tribune, July 16, 1999)

Maruja Tarre is a former executive director (1995-2001) of the Energy Institute of the Americas (EIA), whose founding members include former US Energy Secretary James Schlesinger. After the April 2002 attempted coup against Chavez she dissed the putschists for bickering among themselves rather than securing the country. “I have never seen so many mistakes in so little time,” she said. (Houston Chronicle, April 21, 2002) During the Venezuelan oil strike in December 2002, she said: “What is happening in Venezuela must worry Washington, which wants supplies to be guaranteed in case of a war with Iraq… The strike is affecting calculations at a global level, because a crucial producer outside the Middle East is failing.” (AFP, Dec. 9, 2002) Twenty-five years ago she served as petroleum counselor at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington. (NYT, Oct. 20, 1981) A July 22, 2004 article in The Oil Daily, published by Energy Intelligence Group, described her as vice president of the opposition Christian Democratic Party.

Some speculate the intellectuals’ statement was timed to discredit Chavez as the World Social Forum convenes in Caracas. (Meanwhile, Venezuela’s anarchists are holding their own Alternative Social Forum—as an alternative to the WSF, with its “tacit backing of the governmental performance of President Hugo Chavez.”)

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