Venezuela is still mourning President Hugo Chavez\’s death but the country\’s expat Jewish community in Israel is more concerned about what the Chavez-free future might entail.
"Chavez knew how to control the extremists, now they\’ll raise their heads," said one concerned Venezuelan-Israeli.
The persecution the community suffered since Chavez rose to power – which intensified after the Israeli embassy closed during Operation Cast Lead – brought many of its members to emigrate to Spanish-speaking countries, the United States and to Israel.
Emigration brought the Caracas Jewish community, which numbered 25,000 Jews in 1998, down to only 8,000.
Today, Israel is home to 1,500 Venezuelan-Jews who reside mostly in Kfar Saba, Raanana, Shoham and Herzliya.
"Chavez\’s reign saw a new phenomena of xenophobia and hatred to Israel," says Sheryl Camper, who made aliyah in 1993.
"The hostility towards Israel had a major effect on the community, and many Jews chose to emigrate. Without the Israeli embassy, Jews felt even more vulnerable."
Even now she has little faith that the situation would improve: "It\’s obvious to everyone that even in the best case scenario, rehabilitation and renewal of ties with the world will take a long time."
Chairman of the Latin American Olim in Israel Organization, Leon Amiras, said that the Jews who remained in the country share the sentiment.
"I was surprised to hear, from conversations with several figures in the community, that they didn\’t think of Chavez\’s death as the light at the end of the tunnel," Amiras said.
"Chavez was a textbook dictator, and even though he\’s gone, his party will still hold power, since they control all the authorities and the military, so chances for change are slim."
According to Amiras, the Venezuelan opposition is undergoing its own crisis and is unlikely to pose a threat to the incumbent government.
"Our estimations say the community\’s situation will not improve soon," noted a despondent Amiras.
"Right now Chavez\’s men have to deal with poverty, the collapsed economy and the crumbling judicial and education establishments, to say nothing of the extremists which Chavez knew how to control, and who will now raise their heads again."
"A new start"
Some have a more optimistic view toward Venezuela\’s capacity for change. "This is truly a new start," exclaimed Leon Markovich, 24, from Tel Aviv, who left his homeland just seven months ago.
"We\’re happy, not about Chavez\’s death, but about future possibilities for Venezuela. If I may be allowed to dream, I can hope that all will be well and the Venezuelans have learned from the past and that now we can all together build a country."
Nevertheless, he is well aware of the present difficult situation and that the road ahead may be a long one.
"Chavez was a great leader and many even viewed him as something of a messiah," Markovich explained.
"But when it comes down to it the economy is down the dumps and there\’s no personal security in Caracas\’ streets. This is Chavez\’s legacy for the next government.
"Today there\’s no security, no money because of debts to China and Russia, and we fear that the next weeks will be very difficult.
"Even so," he stressed, "we are very hopeful. It doesn\’t make sense that a country that has so much oil would find itself as the country with the highest inflation rate after Haiti.
"We hope that like after the disintegration of the USSR, funds will flow into Venezuela from privatizations and the like, but we\’re all aware that until then there\’ll be chaos and instability."