How Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez is Using Anti-Semitism to Maintain His Power—Against a Challenger Who Isn’t Even JewishJune 13, 2012
Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles delivers a speech in Caracas on June 10, 2012 (Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty Images) The Dispossessed (Tablet/By Matthew Fishbane) Hugo Chávez is ramping up his assault on Venezuela’s upper class, and now a rare Jewish paradise is squarely in his sights. Can it be salvaged? Four days ago, Henrique Capriles, the youthful governor of Miranda state in Venezuela, launched his campaign to rid the country of Hugo Chávez at the presidential election scheduled for October this year. Joined by thousands of supporters, the newly minted candidate led a six-mile procession through the capital city, Caracas. Their final destination was the office of the national election board, where Capriles formally registered his candidacy. The march showcased Capriles, whose Jewish origins have been mercilessly attacked by the Chavistas, as the anti-Chávez—not just figuratively, but literally as well. By marching for a long distance over a short space of time, Capriles wanted his fellow Venezuelans to see him as the picture of health, in marked contrast to the ailing Chávez. For more than a year now, Chávez’s physical condition has been subjected to the sort of rolling speculation typically reserved for dictators. Until Saturday, Chávez had released virtually no information about the terminal cancer he is widely believed to be suffering from. Then, one day before the Capriles march, he summoned journalists to his presidential palace to tell them, “I feel very good.” The following day, Chávez held a buoyant election rally of his own.
The rally didn’t disguise the fact that Chávez, who is currently serving his third term as president, has never looked so vulnerable. His failing health is only part of the story; in the six years that have passed since the last election, the country has become mired in poverty, violent crime, and corruption. Fired by the high price of oil, Venezuela’s principle export, Chávez lavished cash on social spending, while the underlying economy suffered from inflation and capital flight. These days, Venezuela looks less like a socialist version of Singapore and more like the Latin American equivalent of Zimbabwe. According to Sammy Eppel, the head of the Human Rights Commission of the Venezuelan Bna’i Brith and a frequent commentator on Venezuelan affairs, not even the 8 million beneficiaries of Chávez’s grandiose social justice programs, who combined make up nearly half of the electorate, can be relied upon to cast their votes for the commandante. Capriles, a moderate leftist who leads a coalition of 30 opposition parties, plans to capitalize on this uncertainty.
Yet in a country like Venezuela, where infrequent elections are the only glimmer of democratic hope in the face of a regime that has acquired the core features of a dictatorship, no opposition candidate can be considered a shoo-in. Most polls show Chávez comfortably in front; nonetheless, the regime has several options up its sleeve in the event of a Capriles victory.
There is the prospect of Chavismo without Chávez, whereby a handpicked successor continues the path of the revolution; Chávez’s daughter and brother are spoken of as possible candidates, as is current Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro. There is the constantly swirling talk of a military coup, a measure that the country’s generals, who are immersed in drug trafficking worth hundreds of millions of dollars, might decide is a preferable alternative to being arrested and imprisoned by a democratic government. In addition, Chávez could follow the example of his close ally Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and simply steal the election. “We do not have an electoral arbiter,” I was told by Diego Arria, a leading opposition figure and former Venezuelan U.N. ambassador. “We have what I call the ‘Ministry of Elections of Mr. Chávez.’ And they will do whatever they have to in order to prevent a defeat.”
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, Chávez can marshal his extraordinary media and propaganda resources to pound away at Capriles’ reputation. Central to that effort is the demonization of Capriles as an agent of capitalism, gringoism, imperialism, and—critically—a concoction of conspiratorial tropes that point to the greatest lurking danger of all: “Zionism,” which for many is interchangeable with “Judaism.” As a recent headline in the weekly pro-Chávez rag Kikiriki so elegantly put it, “We are fucked if the Jews come to power.”
Henrique Capriles may be a devout Catholic, but he comes from Jewish stock. His mother’s family, the Radonskis, were Jewish émigrés from Poland; his great-grandparents were exterminated in the Treblinka concentration camp; and his grandmother spent nearly two years in the beleaguered Warsaw Ghetto. His father, meanwhile, is descended from the long-established Sephardic community on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. Although Capriles has expressed pride in his background, his family never considered themselves part of Venezuela’s diminutive Jewish community. For the purposes of the regime’s propaganda operation, that brooks no difference.
“The best opposition candidate for Chávez is Capriles,” said Sammy Eppel. “Any other candidate, like Diego Arria, would be different—they couldn’t call him a Zionist. But Capriles fits the bill perfectly.” Eppel points out that the cartoons lampooning Capriles in the Chávez-controlled press invariably feature him wearing a Star of David. And because Capriles is unmarried, the Chavistas can’t resist a homophobic swipe either; in many of these same cartoons, he wears a pair of pink shorts.
“There is no anti-Semitic tradition in Venezuelan culture,” asserts Daniel Duquenal, one of the few dissident bloggers in Venezuela. “But Chávez has been systematically developing anti-Semitism in Venezuela.” All of which is eerily reminiscent of “anti-Semitism without Jews,” a phenomenon that emerged in the eastern bloc and in certain Arab countries following the Second World War. Absent a numerically significant Jewish community, anti-Semitism becomes a largely ideological weapon, designed to stoke fears of shadowy outside forces hatching conspiracies.
What, if any, are the potential gains of such a strategy for Chávez? Diego Arria is adamant that while the regime is unambiguously anti-Semitic, its deployment of anti-Semitic discourse will yield few concrete advantages. “Capriles says, ‘I am a mariano, a follower of the Virgin Mary,’ ” says Arria, who attended school with Capriles’ father. “People in Venezuela do not see him as a Jew. I don’t believe that an anti-Semitic campaign will have much impact on the Venezuelan population.”
Contrastingly, Duquenal argues that the value of anti-Semitism lies outside the domestic arena, pointing to Chávez’s geopolitical calculations. Chávez has actively promoted a close commercial and political relationship with the mullahs in Iran. He has established himself as a loyal ally of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad going so far as to dispatch 300,000 tons of diesel, which arrived on a Venezuelan freighter, La Negra Hipolita, two days before the gruesome massacre in the town of Houla. Last week, Chávez ended another long period out of public view by publicly welcoming a delegation from Belarus sent by that country’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, who plans to visit Caracas personally in a few weeks from now.
“Anti-Semitism has been created artificially because Chávez wants to align himself with radical regimes against the United States,” Duquenal said. “That’s the only logical explanation I can find for why Chavismo has deliberately decided to become an anti-Semitic political movement.” Continue reading: ‘The Jewish Problem’Both Duquenal and Sammy Eppel point to the enduring influence over Chávez of Norberto Ceresole, the late Argentinian fascist intellectual with whom he struck up a friendship. “Ceresole was like the parrot on Chávez’s shoulder,” Eppel says. “He wanted bring the far left and the far right together, and he persuaded Chávez that he was the man to do that.” Once Chávez, following Ceresole, aligned the dregs of fascism with those of communism, anti-Semitism became the ideological glue binding the Chavismo model of government, in which the relationship between the leader and his people is central, unencumbered by pesky interferences like an independent judiciary. It is no accident, Eppel believes, that the first chapter of a book by Ceresole extolling this model was titled “The Jewish Problem.”
Occasionally, the vulgar rhetoric of Venezuelan anti-Semitism has strayed into physical attacks. In January 2009, an armed gang stormed the Tiferet Israel synagogue in Caracas, spraying choice slogans like “Damned Israel, Death!” on its walls. This particular theme echoed a speech that Chávez delivered in China in 2006, in which he claimed that Israel had “done something similar to what Hitler did, possibly worse, against half the world.”
In a monograph published in April, “Chávez, The Left and The Jews,” the academics Claudio Lomnitz and Rafael Sanchez contend that in Chávez’s Venezuela, “politics and political life represent a kind of hand-to-hand combat between the ‘people,’ united by ‘love,’ and its enemies, united by hatred—the ‘ire’ that Ceresole imputes to the Jews.” Such cloyingly emotional, anti-rational politics are the perfect breeding ground for the fantasies about Jewish power that Chávez has actively promoted and that will doubtless be wheeled out against Capriles as the election approaches.
For Venezuela’s remaining Jews, these anti-Semitic fantasies underline their own harsh reality. Diego Arria describes the community as having been “decimated”; under Chávez, its numbers have declined from a height of 30,000 to just 9,000. Moreover, the Chavista bureaucracy seemingly delights in placing obstacles in the community’s way. Just before Passover this year, the interior ministry announced that extra sanitary permits would be needed if the importation of matzo, the unleavened bread consumed during the festival, was to be approved. And when the Jewish community needs to make official representations, its leaders are directed to the Foreign Ministry—proof, Sammy Eppel asserts, that the regime fundamentally regards Jews as aliens, not Venezuelan citizens.
All the indicators are that Venezuelan Jews will continue to leave the country, heading for more benign destinations like Colombia, Mexico, and Miami. “They are an integrated Latin community, so they go where there is a Latin culture,” says Eppel. “This isn’t a Polish shtetl.” It is possible that a Capriles victory will stem the tide of emigration, but even then, the years of destruction wrought by Chávez will remain a powerful push factor for Jews and non-Jews alike.
(UNWatch.org)Rights groups to oppose bids by Pakistan and Venezuela for UN Human Rights Council
GENEVA, Feb. 22 – The governments of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Pakistan are slated to run unopposed for seats on the UN’s 47-nation Human Rights Council this year, reported the independent monitoring group UN Watch, citing sources close to the UN.
“It’s an outrage,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, who announced the formation of an international coalition of parliamentarians and human rights groups to block both candidacies, “due to their poor records on human rights protection at home and on human rights promotion at the UN.”
Last year, UN Watch exposed Syria’s candidacy to the council, and initiated a diplomatic campaign that pressured Damascus to drop its bid at the last minute. The non-governmental watchdog also led a successful campaign of 70 groups to remove Libya’s Qaddafi regime from the council.
Neuer said that Venezuela and Pakistan were among the few states condemned for gross human rights violations at a recent summit of human rights dissidents, organized by UN Watch and 25 other human rights groups. The resolutions adopted on both countries are being circulated to UN diplomats in hopes they will be addressed at the council’s opening 2012 session next week. (MORE)
but looking at the glass half full… Venezuela and Pakistan are a step up from Syria. The problem really is that these organizations matter at all.
(Livia Acosta Noguera, the Venezuelan consul in Miami)
Anna Mahjar-Barducci (stonegateinstitute.org) Tensions are mounting between the U.S. and Venezuela as the State Department decided to expel Livia Acosta Noguera, the Venezuelan consul in Miami, declaring her “persona non grata.” The Venezuelan consul was implicated in an alleged plot to launch cyber attacks on U.S. nuclear power facilities. The decision was taken as a direct result of the revelations made by the documentary The Iranian Threat, aired by the U.S Spanish language channel Univision.
In the film, the Venezuelan consul was caught on camera backing Iranian-sponsored cyber-attack against U.S. targets in 2007, when she was vice-secretary in the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico. According to the documentary, these cyber-attacks would be “worse than 9-11.” The State Department did not want to comment on this decision. However, a U.S. high official stated that this expulsion is a serious issue, as “we do not take it lightly when we declare somebody persona non grata.”
Before the expulsion, four members of the Congress — Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican), Mario Diaz-Balart (Republican), David Rivera (Republican) and Albio Sires (Democrat) — wrote a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expressing their “grave concern” over the “diplomatic credentials” of the Venezuelan Consul. “According to a documentary by Univision Network titled ‘The Iranian Threat‘ […] [the Venezuelan consul] interacted with members from the Iranian and Cuban embassies and with students posing as extremists […] in order to coordinate a cyber attack against the United States Government and our critical infrastructure systems at the White House, FBI, and CIA. If true, these actions demonstrate [Venezuelan consul’s] willingness to undermine U.S. interests and potential threat to our national security posed by [Venezuelan consul’s] activities. With this is mind, we respectfully request the Department of State to investigate these allegations, and if found true, declare her a persona non grata and require her immediate departure from the United States,” they wrote.
Congressman David Rivera also revealed that Washington has information that members of the Venezuelan diplomatic corps are also active officers of the Venezuelan intelligence services. This would mean that Venezuelan spies are allegedly acting freely in the U.S soil. Congressman Rivera warned that there should be an immediate investigation into further Venezuelan threats to the U.S. national security, especially given the cooperation between the Venezuela’s intelligence and Iran’s.
It seems clear that the State Department found these allegations to be true. According to Venezuelan media, the Venezuelan consul has been in Venezuela since December, having left the U.S. soon after the airing of the documentary. “We already knew that this was going to happen, and so she has been in Caracas in order to avoid situations, possibly even dangerous ones,” said the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, during a press conference.
Chavez added that the expulsion is a demonstration of “the ridiculous empire’s arrogance…..[The Venezuelan consul] is a very dignified professional, who was attacked, slandered and demonized by extremist groups and now by Barack Obama’s government,” he said, adding that – “She will continue working for our foreign service as she has done for many years.” Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro further stated that Venezuela is going to give a clear, firm and timely response about the issue.
The U.S. action against the Venezuelan Consul comes exactly at the time Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Venezuela. It therefore seems a clear signal of disapproval that Washington wanted to send to Venezuela, given that the Venezuelan consul is accused of having backed an alleged Iranian plot to attack the U.S.
Ahmadinejad’s visit indicates the further strengthening of relations between Venezuela and Iran. During the visit, Ahmadinejad and Chavez took the opportunity to laugh at the U.S.’s concern over Iran’s nuclear program. “They accuse us of being warmongers,” said Chavez. “They, the Americans, are the threat.” Chavez also commented o being honored by Ahmadinejad’s visit. “Now Washington’s spokespersons are saying that it is not convenient for any country to get close to Iran. Well, the truth is that this makes us laugh,”Chavez said.
In a Univision interview, U.S. President Barack Obama declared that the Venezuelan government’s relations with Iran did not serve the interests of the Venezuelan people. “Ultimately, it is up to the Venezuelan people to determine what they gain from a relationship with a country that violates universal human rights and is isolated from much of the world. The Iranian government has consistently supported international terrorism that has killed innocent men, women and children around the world – including in the Americas. It has brutally suppressed the Iranian people simply for demanding their universal rights. And Tehran continues to pursue a nuclear program that threatens the security of the Middle East. Here in the Americas, we take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously and we will continue to monitor them closely,” Obama said.
Chavez, however, seems not at all worried, and is evidently willing to keep on cooperating with Iran, even if this will lead to more U.S. sanctions. During the meeting with Ahmadinejad, the two heads of state agreed to expand cooperation in the fields of industry, science and nano-technology, as well as economy. They also called on the “imperialist and extremist powers to stop interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.”
It is clear, that despite the expulsion of the Venezuelan Consul, the U.S. should keep high alert, as other threats against the U.S. can come from Venezuela, in cooperation with Iran.