Jews in Latin America Will Thrive Only in Democracy, Bbi Leader Says

The Jews in Latin America cannot afford to be neutral in the struggle to preserve democracy in that region, a Latin American Jewish leader warned last week.

There is a future for Jews in Latin America only if they maintain “a very strong commitment to strengthen democracy. to help it flourish, to take care of social problems, to help those who suffer,” said Alfredo Neuburger, B’nai B’rith International’s assistant executive vice president for Latin America.

Neuburger, who lives in Buenos Aires, spoke at a day-long symposium on “What Economic Measures Will Advance Democracy in Latin America?” sponsored by the International Council of B’nai B’rith.

The last decade has brought a rapid growth in democratic governments to a majority of Latin American countries, and as a result, the region’s population now has great expectations, he said.

But, he cautioned, “this massive return to democracy came at the same time as the worst economic crisis that Latin America has endured in this century.”

The deteriorating economic situation throughout much of Latin America has affected Jews no differently than others, he said. Most Latin American Jews are middle class. But in Argentina, for example, the middle class has been “pushed down” by the economy and there are now many Jews in poverty along with other Argentinians, Neuburger explained.

CALL FOR A ‘STRONG HAND’

Since the democratic governments of Latin America have been unable to solve their social and economic problems, some people, Jews among them, are calling for “a strong hand,” he warned.

He underlined that Jews, just like many other Latin Americans, have no experience with democracy. Where there is no tradition of pluralism or dissent, democracy “is not part and parcel of everybody’s life.”

He added that he is “disturbed” by Jewish self-centered concerns. “I have heard those who have said there are some dictatorships that are not so bad because they don’t affect the Jewish community,” he said.

Neuburger stressed that Jews become second-class citizens in dictatorships, just like everyone else.

Now, as economic turbulence grows alongside democracy, anti-Semitic forces have begun to appear.

Neuberger said this is now happening in Argentina, a country with an anti-Semitic legacy, and in Brazil, where neo-Nazi groups have begun to raise their heads publicly.

Despite these dangers, Neuberger predicted that there will be no mass emigration of the some 500,000 to 600,000 Jews in Latin America. He said the various Jewish communities of the region are integrated into their individual countries and are committed to the destinies of these lands.

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