The first Jews arrived to the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Most settled in Brazil, Suriname, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, and Jamaica. Smaller communities settled in Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Peru. The Spanish Inquisition, however, came to these territories, and as such, many of these Jews were forced to hide their identities, becoming “Crypto-Jews” (or “Anusim”) in Hebrew. For more on this, I recommend my post AN INTRODUCTION TO CRYPTO-JEWISH IDENTITY.
The legacy of this hidden Jewish identity continues in many of these countries. For instance, in Medellin, Colombia, it is customary to slaughter a pig on the streets every Christmas, which is supposed to symbolise the rejection of Jewish law, as Crypto-Jews were pejoratively called “Marranos” (meaning “pigs”). The city of Escazú, Costa Rica, is known as “the city of witches,” because locals associated Crypto-Jewish traditions with witchcraft (yes, that’s where the title of my book comes from). The Inquisition was not disbanded in the Americas until the mid to late 19th century.
A second and third wave of Jewish refugees arrived in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, mainly those escaping antisemitism in Europe and growing Nazi influence, although others arrived from Southwest Asia and North Africa, fleeing antisemitism in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
ANTISEMITISM IN LATIN AMERICA
Sadly, anywhere Jews go, antisemitism seems to follow, and Latin America is no exception. According to the ADL Global Index of Antisemitism, between 24-52% of Latin Americans hold predominantly antisemitic attitudes (an exception being Brazil, where “only” 16% hold predominantly antisemitic attitudes).
As stated previously, the Spanish Inquisition followed Jews to Latin America. The Jews of Mexico, Peru, and Colombia were the most heavily targeted. Even Jews who’d converted to Catholicism were tortured and murdered.
Prior to the Holocaust, every Latin American country (and virtually every other country in the world) closed its doors to Jewish refugees. The only exception was the Dominican Republic, whose dictator hoped an influx of refugees from Europe would lighten the skin of Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean Dominicans. After WWII, some 9000 high ranking Nazis settled in South America. In the 1970s, Argentinian Jews were disproportionately targeted (kidnapped, murdered) by the Argentinian military junta. In the 1990s, two terrorist attacks against the Argentinian Jewish community killed over 110 civilians. Jews have also been casualties of numerous revolutions in Latin America.
While most of the antisemitic conspiracies circling around in Latin America are nothing new, there are various (completely bizarre) conspiracies specific to the region.
“EL PLAN ANDINIA”
THE FACTS: in 1889, 824 Jews fleeing antisemitic persecution in Eastern Europe purchased 600,000 hectares of land in Argentina, with the intent of enabling Jewish emigration out of Europe during a period of severe antisemitic violence. They named the territory “Moiseville,” meaning Moses” Village. Some 2,200 Jews settled there, though nowadays most of the land is not owned by Jews.
THE CONSPIRACY: the “Andinia Plan” is a right-wing Argentine antisemitic conspiracy theory that purports that Jews (or “Zionists”) have a plan to establish a Jewish state in parts of Argentina and Chile. Like most right-wing and white supremacist conspiracy theories, it has now been adopted by the Argentinian and Chilean left-wing.
In the early 1970s, leaflets circulated among the Argentinian military claiming that Zionists planned to take over the Patagonia region of Argentina via an “Israeli military invasion.” Among Argentinian military officers, this conspiracy was assumed to be factual. It was even used as an excuse to persecute Jews. Between 1976-1983, the Argentinian military tortured many Jews, hoping to obtain information about this supposed Andinia Plan.
In 2011, an Israeli tourist accidentally started a fire in the Chilean Patagonia. In light of this, the Chilean media started reporting on the so-called Andinia Plan, with some Chilean politicians even claiming that this fire was somehow connected to this supposed secret Zionist plot to conquer the Patagonia region.
“EL PLAN SEFARADITA PARA COSTA RICA”
In 2011, an internet user in Costa Rica wrote of a “top secret Zionist plot” for the supposed “Sephardi takeover” of the northern region of Costa Rica. According to this user, a whistleblower in the Costa Rican-equivalent of the FBI learned of the plot after he’d managed to infiltrate a “top secret meeting” of the Jewish community of Costa Rica.
Much like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, this document purports to document the minutes of a meeting among the leaders of the Costa Rican Jewish community. According to this conspiracy, the Jews of Costa Rica plan to destroy the Costa Rican state from the inside, by weakening the upper, white class through emboldening Indigenous and Afro-Costa Ricans, as well as through enabling the mass immigration of Nicaraguans, who tend to be darker-skinned. Additionally, the conspiracy claims that Costa Rican Jews have worked to weaken the power and influence of the Catholic Church. Supposedly, Costa Rican Jews are sending their own children to attend church, pretend to be Catholic, and then accuse Catholic priests of sexual abuse (in other words, they claim that Jews are behind all of the sexual abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church today).
According to this conspiracy, Costa Rica is the “true Promised Land” for Sephardi Jews. In this so-called Costa Rican Promised Land, Sephardi Jews will promote homosexuality, the legalisation of abortion, and pedophilia.
Recently, this bizarre conspiracy has been making the rounds on Costa Rican social media.
SANDINISTAS & ZIONISM
The Sandinista National Liberation Front is a socialist party in Nicaragua that ruled the country from 1979 to 1990. Whether the Sandinistas were antisemitic or enacted an antisemitic campaign on the tiny Jewish Nicaraguan population has long been the subject of debate, with both Reagan’s government and the Anti-Defamation League asserting that the Sandinista government was systematically oppressing its tiny Jewish population, through the destruction and seizure of the synagogue and Jewish properties (which objectively did happen, though the reason for this is up for debate), and the fact that the remaining Jewish community fled during the Sandinista takeover.
Other Jewish groups, such as the American Jewish Committee and the World Jewish Organisation, denied charges of systemic Sandinista antisemitism.
Nevertheless, the Sandinistas were openly anti-Zionist. The Sandinistas, who were embroiled in conflict with the United States and the Reagan administration, bizarrely considered Zionism an extension of American imperialism in Nicaragua. The Nuevo Diario, the newspaper in Managua that adhered closely to the Sandinista party line, charged that “the world's money, banking and finance are in the hands of descendants of Jews, the eternal protectors of Zionism.” The Nuevo Diario continued explaining that Zionists held the power in the United States, which subsequently then affected Nicaraguans.
Shortly after the Sandinistas came to power, they invited the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, to Managua, where they told him that “the way to Jerusalem lies through Managua.” It was a bizarre statement all around. For a country with less than 50 Jews at the time, the Sandinistas certainly gave Zionism disproportionate attention in their propaganda.
THE JEWISH QUESTION…IN ARGENTINA
Between 1976-1983, the right-wing military junta in Argentina targeted, kidnapped, and tortured political dissidents, socialists, and left-wing Peronists, during a period known as the “Dirty War.”
Among all of these victims, Argentinian Jews were disproportionately targeted. Out of all of the people who “went missing” during this period, 13 percent were Jews, even though Jews formed only one percent of the Argentinian population.
Though there was no plan to exterminate Argentinian Jews, in 1999, a 196-page report presented to the Spanish judge Baltazar Garzán in Madrid revealed that not only were Jews disproportionately targeted, but that the Argentinian military and security forces were obsessed with Nazism and the issue of the “Jewish Question.” During torture sessions, they’d play recordings of Hitler’s speeches. Police headquarters were adorned with swastikas and Jews were singled out for special punishments.
Jacobo Timerman, the editor of a newspaper called La Opinión, was arrested and tortured in the 1970s. According to Timerman, his captors spared his life because they believed that he had crucial information about the Andinia Plan. Following international pressure, Timerman was stripped of his citizenship and released, but first, he was obligated to give a press conference where he was to admit to being a Zionist.
ZIONIST TAKEOVER OF VENEZUELA
In recent decades, the Jewish community of Venezuela has been affected by the political upheaval and regimes of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro. Since 2004, heavy antisemitic propaganda, almost exclusively under the guise of “anti-Zionism,” has been disseminated across the country. In 2004, the Jewish elementary and high schools in Caracas were raided by the government, an event described as “perhaps the most serious incident ever to have taken place in the history of the Jewish community.” In 2007, a Jewish community center was raided by law enforcement. Pro-Chávez supporters frequently desecrated Jewish synagogues with graffiti stating slogans such as “Jews go home” (…and yet for some reason they call themselves “anti-Zionist”?).
Today, the president (dictator) of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro continues to spread bizarre conspiracies that “Zionists” are plotting to take over the Venezuelan government. For example, in an interview with a Lebanese newspaper, Maduro claimed that Juan Guaidó, who the opposition considers the rightful president of Venezuela, is “an agent of Zionism and the CIA.” In the same interview, he also said he “considers himself Palestinian” (he is not Palestinian).
Over 15,000 Jews fled Venezuela since 2006, with only 7,000 remaining as of 2015.
COLUMBUS THE JEW
Historians have long debated whether Christopher Columbus could have possibly been a Converso (Jew who converted to Christianity), a Crypto-Jew, or of Jewish origin. Though “evidence” of Columbus’ Jewish origins is circumstantial and weak at best, what we do know for a fact is that: (1) Columbus arrived to the Americas as a representative of Christianity and the Spanish Crown, which was deeply Catholic and antisemitic; (2) regardless of his possible origins, Columbus was a devout Catholic; and (3) antisemites have long used Columbus’s alleged Jewish heritage to spread antisemitic conspiracies.
For years, both Jews and non-Jews alike have made claims such as that Columbus sailed to the Americas in search of a safe heaven for Jews, following their expulsion from Spain and Portugal in 1492 and 1497, respectively. While it’s true that many in those voyages were Conversos (Jews who’d converted to Catholicism), there is no tangible evidence that this was his purpose at all. On the contrary, Columbus explicitly aimed to spread Christianity in the Americas for the Spanish Crown.
Given the speculation about Columbus’s possible Jewish ancestry, antisemites have at times claimed that he conquered the Americas or enacted the genocide of Indigenous peoples as a representative of world Jewry or even Zionism.
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