NEW YORK (May. 3)
A prominent Jewish leader from Guatemala City said here today that turmoil in Central America caused by Soviet intervention was threatening the future of Jewish communities in the region.
Speaking at a news conference at the American Jewish Committee’s 78th annual meeting, continuing through Sunday at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Moises Sabbaj, the vice-president of FEDECO, the Federation of Central American Jewish communities, declared that “Jews are living at added risk in the region because their livelihoods depend on small businesses that are losing investments, or on professional services that inevitably become nationalized in the event of leftist takeovers.”
Sabbaj come to the AJC annual meeting to address its International Relations Commission as an officially-appointed spokesman for FEDECO, the central representative body of 10,000 Central American Jews in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua. Earlier in the week, Sabbaj addressed a meeting of representatives from major American Jewish religious, cultural educational, and social welfare organizations on the critical internal spiritual and educational needs of Central American Jewry.
The meeting was arranged by Dr. Mare Tanenbaum, director of AJC’s International Relations Department, who established a close working relationship with FEDECO when he addressed its 11th National Convention in Guatemala City last January.
Sabbaj said that Jews in Central America had been suffering from the political situation and outbursts of vandalism, much more than the rest of the population.
ROLE OF SOVIETS IN CENTRAL AMERICA
Sabbaj, who is an engineer and manufacturer of consumer goods, added that he “believes without doubt that Soviet intervention is responsible” for the scope of guerrilla activity in Central America.
“We saw what happened in Venezuela, when the Soviets struck a deal to sell Venezuelan oil to Cuba,” he continued, “the guerrilla activities stopped. We can see the hand of the Soviets in that example, and in many others.”
He said additionally that Jews feared too that they might be harmed by either parties in the conflict. He pointed to a spreading religious revival carrying anti-Semitic undertones, and to a rise in Arab influence in the region, which are further undercutting the Jewish community’s strength in the already strife-tom region.
REJECTS VIEW OF ISRAEL AS ARMS MERCHANT
Reporting on his conversations last January with Foreign Ministers, Ambassadors, and Jewish community leaders from throughout Central America, Tanenbaum said that “recent newspaper reports about Israel’s having become an arms merchant in Central America are without foundation. There is lots of smoke and little fire. I had length and searching discussions on this issue with Central American government officials and with four Israeli Ambassadors in Central American countries.
“I am convinced that there is no government-to-government transfer of arms between Israel and Central American governments. The only arms sale I could trace down was that of the sale of automatic rifles and light submachine guns from Israel to Costa Rica, a parliamentary democracy that has no army.”
The major involvement of Israel in Central America, Tanenbaum said, “is in the area of training young people in agricultural development, agroindustry, and the establishment of farm cooperatives modeled on Israel’s successful kibbutz and moshav settlements. In fact, in 1983, Israel conducted a major seminar on agricultural development and land reform in Guatemala for Central American farm experts, which was widely acclaimed as Israel’s constructive contribution to the social welfare of that region’s peoples.
“Guatemala’s Minister of Agriculture Rodolfo Perdomo Menendez, told us last January that Guatemala looks to the “heroic people of Israel as a model, and that Guatemala regards the people of Israel as brothers and sisters for helping them to improve their life standards, especially in the agricultural fields’.”
Speaking at the same news conferences, Sergio Nudelstejer, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Mexico City office, blamed long-standing “social and economic injustices” for the guerrilla movement.
Agreeing with that view, Jacobo Kovadloff of Buenos Aires, director of the AJC’s Latin American office, said that “the collective will of Latin American Jewry is the same as that of the majority of all peoples on the continent to aid the political trend toward democracy and to bring about recognition of all people’s fundamental human rights.”
Tanenbaum urged the Jewish community in the United States to support increases in U.S. military and economic aid to Central America, while simultaneously pressing for improved human rights in those nations.