Social Unrest in Central America Poses Threat to Jewish Communities

The pattern of revolution and counter-revolution, Marxist terrorist kidnappings and social unrest in Central America poses serious threats to the continued existence of Jewish communities in several countries here. This grave outlook was reported by Sergio Nudelstejer, director of the Mexican office of the American Jewish Committee, at the Committee’s 74th annual meeting, which continues through Sunday at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel here.

Since Jews in Central American countries generally belong to the business and merchant community, they often are considered class enemies along with other business leaders, by Marxist and leftist forces, Nudelstejer said. Similar social and political conditions in many of the Central American countries, moreover, gives rise to a spilling over of revolutionary ferment from one country to another, the AJ Committee official pointed out.

Thus, he continued, although overt anti-Semitism is not very prevalent, the Jews have become victims of the social chaos and political instability in some of these countries, solely because of their class association. As a result, the Jewish community in some of the countries has either left or is in the process of departing.

SITUATION IN NICARAGUA, EL SALVADOR

In Nicaragua, Nudelstejer reported, where the long-time Somoza dictatorship was recently overthrown by the Sandinistas, the entire Jewish community of some 70 families (about 350 people) has vanished from the land. Some Jews suffered from the earthquake which devastated the capital city of Managua some years ago. Others fled during the revolutionary conflict. A few have returned, probably to liquidate their holdings in the country, he reported. Thus, he concluded, in spite of the fact that the Sandinistas have exhibited no anti-Semitism, the Jewish community there has just about ceased to exist.

In El Salvador, Nudelstejer continued, where terrorism and violence are almost daily occurrences and where the rightist government is trying to hold off leftist guerillas, most of the members of the 80 Jewish families have left the country and only about 50 Jews, almost all males, remain.

The kidnapping and murder of a Jewish businessman and Honorary Israeli Consul, Ernesto Liebes, by a group of leftist guerillas, in March 1979 shook the stability of the Jewish community, giving rise so the exodus of many. As a result, though there has been no evidence of overt anti-Semitism by either the revolutionaries or the government, and Jewish synagogues, the Jewish center and the Jewish cemetery have not been harmed there does not seem to be much of a future for Jews in that country.

SITUATION IN OTHER COUNTRIES

Similar conditions exist in Guatemala, the AJ Committee official declared, with murder, kidnapping and clashes between guerilla forces and the army rampant. Here too the Jews are targets as bourgeois. There are about 1500 Jews who remain in the country, down by about one-fourth from the previous year.

Nudelstejer stated that in Honduras, which is the poorest of the Central American states and which has about 200 Jews, officials are trying to prevent revolution by offering to hold free elections. However, he reported, here too the government is beset by political forces from both extremes. Only in Costa Rica (2500 Jews), a country which has traditionally been democratic and stable, and Panama (5000 Jews), where the military are firmly in control, does the Jewish community presently feel secure, he declared.

But the overall unrest in Central America, Nudelstejer continued, has had on effect in Colombia, the northernmost country in South America. In that land, a country with a long and stable democratic tradition, leftist forces have been growing in size, recently seizing the Dominican Republic Embassy in Bogota, the capital of Colombia, for several weeks.

There have been a number of cases of kidnappings by rebels of Jews, who number 15,000 in the country. “Colombia’s democratic principles notwithstanding,” Nudelstejer stated, “these new threats and uprisings augur ill for the future, and the Jewish community is uncomfortably aware of the social disruption they portend.”

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