by Dan Aspan*
Special to iVoryTowerz
The tensions rising against religious groups in Venezuela could cause a violent clash in the near future. Just over a week ago, a group of armed men vandalized the biggest synagogue in Caracas. Days later, unidentified people on a motorcycle lobbed tear gas canisters into a Vatican mission compound in Venezuela's capital city. Both groups presumed to be responsible for the attacks are radical supporters of President Hugo Chavez’ socialist regime. While Chavez has condemned both incidents, there is no denying they have caused a profound schism in Venezuelan society. There is no question that anti-Semitism and religious intolerance are at the center of the issue. The recent acts of desecration have not come as a response to a specific event or action. They are completely random and suggest the dangerous possibility that the situation will only get worse before it gets better.
To add to the tension, a crucial plebiscite will take place in Venezuela on February 15. Venezuelans will go to the polls and vote on an amendment proposed by Chavez, which would extend his term beyond its scheduled end in 2012.
Although Chavez and his government are saying the right things to condemn these recent attacks, many believe his followers are carrying them out. His radical views are inspiring acts of utter disrespect and hatred. One thing Chavez chooses to ignore is that his often irrational and indignant attitude sparks the same behavior in those who follow him. However, he can’t sacrifice his political image by taking part in ransacking a synagogue, so his followers can do it for him.
Although Chavez may not explicitly say that a synagogue should be desecrated, he has taken a stance on Israel that serves only to instill anti-Semitic sentiments in his people. (State television in Venezuela has run a number of reports highly critical of Israel and its attacks on Gaza.)
Whether Chavez supports the attacks or not, he knows that his scope of influence is great in his country. By using his rhetoric and attitude, he can’t be surprised that this type of violence happens. Chavez is not a fool, and many of his political tactics are ploys to deliberately manipulate those who listen to him. If you listen to some of his criticism of former President George W. Bush, you get an idea of how over the top Chavez loves to be.
If Chavez’ term is extended, this will arguably mark the end of democracy in Venezuela. Chavez has made it clear that he wishes to remain as Venezuela’s leader for as long as possible. Although he will have popular support, there will be no end to this type of anti-religious violence in Venezuela. Until Chavez actually does something greater to instill a message of condemnation in his people for these random acts of aggression, he might as well be the one writing “Jews get out” on the walls of the synagogue.
*Dan Aspan is the producer of Latinocast, a weekly podcast about Latin America.
(For more background on Gaza, please see: "Gaza's Crumbling Ceasefire: A Reaction." For more background on Chavez and Venezuela, please see: "Chavez Loses in Venezuela, so has Democracy Won?" and "Venezuela's Media War: The Latest Battle.")
(The photo is from a celebration in Caracas in 2008 and is not from recent protests or demonstrations; the photo is by Surizar of Guatemala via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)
Vatican mission attack
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by Dan Aspan*