On this day: Hugo Chavez is elected

December 6 1998: A landslide victory for Venezuela's leftist leader

By Jennifer Lipman, December 6, 2010

Six years after he lead a failed coup against the government of President Carlos Andres Perez, Venezuela chose the anti-globalist revolutionary and former paratrooper Hugo Chavez as its president.

Seen domestically as a champion of the poor, he swept into power on a populist platform vowing to overhaul the South American country’s corrupt politics. The wealthy, the church and much of the media have come under criticism in his 12 years in power.

On the international stage, Chavez has focused on building controversial ties with states including Iran, Cuba and China, while his rule has seen Venezuelan-American relations plummet. The same can be said of Venezuelan-Israeli relations; earlier this year in a typically baffling comment Chavez accused Mossad of trying to kill him and said that Israel was financing the Venezuelan opposition.

The country is home to more than 10,000 Jews but relations between the community and the government are not strong. Anti-Jewish sentiment has been a problem throughout his presidency, and in the last decade synagogues have been desecrated and increasingly more antisemitic incidents have been reported.

Chavez has made speeches accusing "Semitic banks" of sabotaging the economy and offered his support to an indigenous Islamic group labelled "Hizbollah Venezuela.”In September he met members of the Venezuelan Confederation of Israelite Associations to discuss antisemitism in the country’s state-run media.

The meeting was described as a success by both parties, but last week a leaked diplomatic cable revealed the extent of the “dark horizon” for the Jewish community. Documents released by WikiLeaks showed, amongst other points, that Venezuelan Jews are viewed as foreigners.

What the JC said: Since Hugo Chavez took power, antisemitic expression has grown exponentially: in government media; in the dissemination of the Protocols of Zion; in the accusation that "Semitic banks" are sabotaging the economy; in the fact that the Caracas Jewish school was raided twice by armed forces "searching for Mossad-supplied arms caches"; in the desecration of two synagogues; and in the closing of the Israeli Embassy. The Venezuelan ambassador to Moscow even alleged that Jewish citizens implicated in a 2002 anti-Chavez coup were "Mossad agents".

See more from the JC archives here

Last updated: 11:09am, December 6 2010