Sunday, January 22, 2006

Venezuelan intellectuals slam Chavez for anti-Semitic remarks 

Sun., January 22, 2006 Tevet 22, 5766
By The Associated Press

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.

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