The President of Venezuela has referred to himself and his supporters as “the new Jews of the 21st century”, after daily rallies where tens of thousands have protested against the policies of his government.
Nicolas Maduro, who assumed control of the country in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez, made the comments during a televised cabinet meeting on Tuesday evening, where he was discussing the harassment of government officials.
"Chavistas [supporters of the political movement begun by Mr Chavez] are the new Jews of the 21st century”, Mr Maduro said.
“We do not have the star of David but the red hearts that are filled with desire to fight for human dignity. And we are going to defeat them, these 21st-century Nazis.”
President Maduro’s comments were strongly criticised by the body representing the country’s Jewish community, the Confederation of Israelite Associations of Venezuela.
The organisation said it “absolutely repudiated” attempts to equate the Holocaust with recent incidents. “This episode in the history of mankind, which claimed the lives of six million Jews, including a million and a half children, is unique and incomparable”, the statement continued.
“Their mention and use constitute a trivialisation of the fact”.
Under the rule of President Chavez, Venezuela was widely recognised as the most antisemitic country in South America. Synagogues and Jewish cultural centres were stormed by armed militias, who desecrated the premises. A friend of Iran and vehement supporter of the Palestinian cause, President Chavez made inflammatory comments, such as his 2005 Christmas Day message when he referred to “some minorities, the descendants of the same people that crucified Christ, and of those that expelled Bolívar from here and in their own way crucified him… [who] have taken control of the riches of the world.”
Over two thirds of the Jewish population of Venezuela have left the country since 1999, when Hugo Chavez came to power. Of a community of approximately 22,000 just before the millennium, there are now fewer than 7,000 left.