Óscar Reyes-Matute
Philosophy, kabbalah, screenwriting...

The Venezuelan Connection and the most Silent Diaspora

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That 18,000 Venezuelan Jews are gone (more than 70% of their population here), is the indicator that perhaps we live in the most silent Jewish diaspora so far in the 21st century.

PARADISE AND DIASPORA
Before Hugo Chávez’s arrival to the Presidency of the Republic in 1998, 23,000 Jews lived in Venezuela. Today, in July 2020, approximately 5,000 still live here, and the number continues to drop.

They left Sepharad due to the expulsion decree of the Catholic Monarchs in 1492 CE, the same year Columbus arrived to this hemisphere. Many crossed in horse carts or walking to Portugal, and even there the Spanish Crown went to chase them. They had to flee to Holland, the fierce naval and commercial competitor of the Iberians. They crossed the Atlantic, and settled on the Dutch islands, such as Curaçao, a few miles off the coast of Coro, Europe’s first continental enclave in America.

The first Jewish cemetery in America is located in Coro (although one in northern Brazil that competes in antiquity was recently discovered), and Sephardic family names such as Curiel, López-Fonseca, Henríquez, Capriles and Levy-Maduro are inscribed on the tombstones.

The Jews who came to Venezuela before World War II, as well as the subsequent survivors of the concentration camps, remember that when they stepped on these warm lands and were received by their smiling inhabitants with fruits, gifts, jobs and lodging, they felt that they had arrived to Paradise, and that this, and not Europe, was going to be their home forever. Until Chávez arrived …

Conspiracy theorists constantly point out that, after cursing the Jewish people in public, Hugo Chávez Frías became ill with cancer and died.

I remember a press conference in January 2012, live on television, attended by Chávez’s then chancellor, Nicolás Maduro, when he received Mahmud Ahmadineyad with honors in Caracas, and pointed out “I know that the family name Maduro is Sephardic … But I deny those Jewish origins … ”

On a geopolitical level, the Chávez government and later the Maduro one, being aligned first with Cuba, then with Russia and China, and finally with Iran, has always deployed a fierce speech against the United States and the state of Israel.

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Certainly, there was a desecration to the Tiféret Israel synagogue, the oldest in Caracas, on the night of Shabbat on January 31st, 2009, during the conflict in the Gaza Strip of 2008-2009, after Venezuela cut diplomatic relations with Israel and Israel expelled Venezuelan officials from Tel Aviv.

For this robbery, 3 former police officers, a former synagogue guard, and three other citizens were arrested. A woman, a former police officer, Yadira Soledad Torres Muñoz, was sentenced to 8 years in prison after confessing herself guilty during the trial.

The Chávez government took care of the manners. Supporting the Palestinians and confronting the USA and Israel at the diplomatic level is not the same as a Caracas Kristallnacht or a state policy against Venezuelan Jewish citizens.

But that 18,000 Venezuelan Jews are gone (more than 70% of its population here), is the indicator that perhaps we live in the most silent Jewish diaspora so far in the 21st century.

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WHY ARE THEY ESCAPING
They leave the country not because they are persecuted as in Nazi Germany or in the Arab countries. They do it as a precaution.

Every Jew from Caracas always has at hand:
1.- The valid passport
2.- Dollars in cash
3.- A suitcase with his basic belongings
4.- They try to keep in shape, they exercise, they run, they trekking up El Ávila mountain, which are very useful disciplines when running away from a place.

It seems that they have learned something.
But of course economic migration is the core factor.
It is a highly organized community with a high educational level. So its members have a very high percentage of university graduates.

As in any other time and other places, Venezuelan Jews are medical doctors, economists, businessmen. Seeing dramatically diminish their opportunities for professional development in Venezuela, their children have emigrated and consolidated their families in the USA, Spain, and many others made aliyah.

Are they remaining in Venezuela mostly a population of elderly Jews, while all of their youth are gone?

It is very possible, but I do not have statistical data about it.

WHAT ABOUT POLITICS?
Venezuelan Jews are discreet. I do not remember to have seeing them speaking out in public, as an organized community, on matters of political interest, neither supporting certain candidates or parties. That’s the way in the USA and Europe. In Venezuela, they attend their yeshivot and synagogues, take care of their businesses, and gather to commemorate events like Kristallnacht or Yom Shoa. Only to these public events do they invite their non Jewish friends, or the cultural activities of the AIV (Israelite Association of Venezuela), or to those of the Center for Sephardic Studies and the Hebraica Club, such as gallery exhibitions, concerts, conferences.
Paradise and the diaspora have been silent.

Paradoxically, in the presidential elections of 2013, two candidates of Jewish origin competed in Venezuela: Henrique Capriles Radonsky (double Sephardic and Azkenazy last name) and Nicolás Maduro, without forgetting what he said about it when receiving Ahmadinejad in Caracas the previous year.

Something different is the way in which Venezuelan political actors have interacted – or have attempted to interact – with the Jewish community.

As the government attacks the State of Israel and defends the so-called Palestinian cause, obviously government officials take great care and avoid to appear in photos together with members of the Jewish community (and vice versa).

But it does not seem that an anti-Semitic sentiment has been sown in the population. Venezuela is a mostly Catholic country, but very relaxed in its inter-religious relations.
Catholics, evangelicals, Jews, Muslims and Santeros do not attack or stab each other with knives as in France. Here the fight is to survive day by day.

In Venezuelan Jewish citizens continue to attend patients at their medical clinics, continue with their shops and stores, although thousands of their children have left the country.
Before Juan Guaidó’s arrival on the national and international political scene, the Venezuelan Jewish community was unattractive to opposition political courtiers.

But once Donald Trump recognized Guaidó as interim President on January 23, 2019, and after more than 50 countries seconded him, things changed.

 

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Seeking American and European recognition as an important Venezuelan opposition factor can become real access to international financial resources. And maybe an army …

It is not surprising that in Miami (in Little Venezuela) numerous opinion groups and lobbies have emerged and try to discredit and weaken Guaidó by attacking and catching that franchise, regardless of whether it involves what in Kabbalah is called shooting at the hull of the boat where oneself travel, where everyone travel.

Nowadays courting and flattering Israel seems like a way to ingratiate yourself with America’s most conservative Jewish and Republican lobbies, and even with their peers internationally.

Guaidó designated rabbi Pinchas Brenner- the ex-chief rabbi of Caracas, who was just in charge of the Tiféret Israel synagogue when it was vandalized in 2009 – as his ambassador to Jerusalem.

A letter of support and redress for the Jewish people and the State of Israel, circulates on the social networks of Guaidó’s party, Voluntad Popular, signed by its most notable leaders and congressmen.

But at least Guaidó can argue that he is still the President of the National Assembly, and that his investiture at the Congress House of Representatives comes from the original power, from the citizens who voted for him.

The curriculum exhibited by María Corina Machado, another well-known Maduro’s opponent, is quite different.

In 2005, when she chaired the NGO Súmate, she was one of the crucial opinion factors that pressed the most for the opposition not to attend the parliamentary elections “due to the lack of guarantees and fair democratic political conditions…” The result was that with a parliament totally controlled by the red deputies of the PSUV, Chávez was able to change laws, appoint magistrates of the electoral council (CNE), magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), and make himself a political suit tailored to his needs and his leftist project.

Curiously, five years later, in 2010, after the previous political hecatomb accelerated by the clumsiness of the opposition itself, Machado declared that finally there were new and enough favourable political conditions to participate in the parliamentary elections. Of course, that time she was running as a candidate for congresswoman …

 

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Losing last year and nowadays the political competition against Voluntad Popular and Guaidó in the USA and on the international arena after Trump and more than 50 countries recognized him as intermim President, Machado rejected any electoral or negotiated solution for the Venezuelan crisis, and launched a call for an international intervention to “liberate Venezuela” (Operation for Peace and Stabilization in Venezuela, OPE) as a matter of vital interest to Western civilization. Of course, if that initiative occurs, she should be named President.

My old friend Miguel Ron, while we were drinking a beer in the torrid sunset at his terrace in Chacao, Caracas, said to me:
-María Corina is so bold, that she is asking for a double coup d’etat: one against Maduro, and the other against Guaidó. Cheers!

The surprising fact is that the Israeli Likud signed an international cooperation pact with Vente Venezuela, Machado’s party.

Image credits: www.ventevenezuela.org / Public domain document

The Jews in Venezuela, with the discretion that characterizes them, are very upset by this agreement, because Machado is not Jewish, nor does she represent the interests of Venezuelan Jews at all.

On the contrary, she exposes them to open or covered persecution at a momentum when radical, non-Jewish and suicide factors (usually acting from their shelters in Miami) accuse Maduro of having opened Venezuela as a sanctuary for Hezbollah terrorists, of converting the country in a kind of spy movie entitled The Venezuelan Connection, supposedly making a very dangerous alliance with enemies of the State of Israel and Jews worldwide, such as Iran and the Islamic State.

They call that inter-party agreement a Likud’s huge mistake and an act of irresponsibility.
What was Eli Vered Hazan, Likud’s International Affairs Officer, thinking when he signed that document? The “tribe” does not know, but they are sure that he was not thinking of them, the 5,000 Jews who still live in this country.

SO?
What is going to happen to the Jews in Venezuela? Where is this country going?

Every time someone asks me for an analysis of the situation in Venezuela, I remember the words of my friend, the political scientist Nora Fischbach (descendant of survivors of Auschwitz and Birkenau), who points out that many of the assumptions of political theory (it is not about “laws” as in physics), are verified and work in almost all the countries of the world, except in Venezuela.

With Nora Fischbach (left) and Arausi Armand (right) during the commemoration of the Kristallnacht 81st Anniversary, at the Bnei Brit Association in Caracas, November 2019. Photo credit: Óscar Reyes-Matute’s personal archive.

As we always see each other at public events, we have not been able to develop such an interesting topic in depth. But I could tell you that one of the reasons because I abandoned the academy and the traditional political analysis is because I noticed that, precisely, its categories did not work in Venezuela, and by extension, neither in many countries and events in the rest of the world.

As I already advanced a bit in my previous article, most of these assumptions come from the inheritance of Greek logic and politics (Aristotle) ​​or from the authors of Modernity, Machiavelli, Hobbes, until reaching the 20th century after the II World War.

I could not find, except in quantum theory, string theory and Kabbalah, a frame of reference that allows me to face this apparently chaotic semantic space of politics, economy, philosophy and the life itself in my country and our planet, in these times of pandemic.

I abandoned Athens and went to dwell spiritually in Jerusalem. And it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

About the Author
Óscar Reyes-Matute (Matu), lives in Caracas. He's a philosopher graduated at Andrés Bello Catholic University, with a Master in Political Science at USB. He has been Fulbright Visiting Scholar at NYU on American Studies, and professor of political philosophy at UCAB and UCV. He has published academic papers in universities of Venezuela and Europe, and articles in several newspapers. Since 2008, he is dedicated to study Kabbalah at the Bnei Baruch Institute in Petaj Tikva, while works as writer of cinema and television screenplays. He's liryc tenor. Be aware, after a glass of wine, he suddenly can start to sing "Nessun Dorma!"
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