Today in Latin America, Jewish Repression in Coro, Venezuela

Repression Against Jews in Coro, Venezuela

This story begins in the Iberia lands during the 14th century. As the Spanish began to consolidate their lands after the final expulsions of the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula, the domination of the Christian religion was also becoming prevalent. For it was religion that formed national identity and purpose in Spain just before the voyages to the new world. Thus, Christianity was forced upon those who had resisted for hundreds of years – Muslim, Jews or others. Thus, as typical in Jewish history, the repression of Sephardic Jews (Jews of Iberia) was endemic. Thus, many were forced to accept Christianity, which some did. Others secretly practiced their faith and were called marranos, Spanish for “pig.” One can see where this is going.

During the Inquisition, established in 1478, many Jews fled the persecution. As the age of exploration and plunder in the America’s began, Jews came to the New World, much like the Puritans in the northeast United States, to avoid persecution. Jews made it to the New World and by the 17th century, Jewish communities flourished in present day Brasil, Suriname, Curaçao, Jamaica, and Barbados with sporadic settlement of Jews in Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico. The legacy of Jewish settlement has contributed over 500,000 Jews living in Latin America today.

It is hard with my resources to track the movement of Jews across the Western Hemisphere. I am open for more information on a fascinating topic. But, needless to say, Jews made it every corner of the hemisphere and by the 1800s, flourished. Our story begins in Dutch controlled Curaçao in 1825 when a group of Jews emigrated to the port city of Coro, Venezuela. But it is not their contributions that is remembered today. Today in 1855 (154 years ago), these Jews became the first to be driven out of an independent country in Latin America.

These Jews were emigrated at the urging of the Dutch government, another by-product of the culture of the nineteenth century that saw Jews as a problem that must be solved. Venezuela accepted, but Creoles (those born in South America of purely Spanish descent) protested within the first months because of Jewish success economically. Thus the stage was set for xenophobia and stereotypes that would eventually drive the Jews from the mainland.

How did the government solve the problem? In 1832, it imposed a “security bond” that only Jews had to pay (it was revised in 1835 due to protests, now the tax was imposed on all foreign business owners). In the 1840s, Jews lent the municipal government of Coro advances in their taxes to battle recession and other shortcomings. The national government got word of this and asked the Jewish community to not prop up the government in Coro. The national government worried about the local military (where some of the money was going) would grow too powerful at the expense of civilian rule. On 30 January, 1855, unable to pay soldiers, the military dismissed the troops quartered at Coro.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library:

The next day, a handbill circulated the city which asked, “Don’t we have businesses in this city that can help the Government by advancing funds for the garrison?” This question was followed by an extortionate threat: “Aren’t the businesses afraid to remain exposed to the dangers that such scandalous and unique circumstances may bring about?” A second and more direct handbill blamed the “distorted avarice” of the Jews for the “misery and helplessness” of the populace. It claimed that “many daughters of Coro, previously models of virtue,” were being “prostituted by the Jews.” It concluded by warning the Jews to leave Coro. Two nights later, a band of 30 armed men wandered through the streets, according to [historian Isidoro] Aizenberg, “shooting at Jewish homes, tearing doors down and looting the shops” belonging to prominent Jewish merchants.

So today, 154 years ago, Jews began to flee the town, most going back to Curaçao. By 10 February, the last of the Jews had fled. A pamphlet proclaimed, “With great joy in our hearts we see today our land is free of its oppressors . . . The Jews have been expelled by the people.” The Dutch opposed the expulsion, for various reasons mentioned, and to secure their trade with Venezuela, the principal motivation of imperial colonies of the time.

It would take three years for any sort of justice. In 1858, Venezuela agreed to pay damages and guarantee the safe return of exiled Coro Jews. Some did return, much like Palestinians, under situations not similar to the Jews of Coro, but the plight of all displaced people everywhere.

Some businesses still stand today from descendants of the first wave of Jewish immigrations. Venezuela is currently home to over 35,000 Jews.

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~ by Daniel on February 4, 2009.

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