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Caracas Jews brace for violence

Venezuelan Jews are bracing for turbulence on the eve of a vote on a controversial constitutional referendum.

A massive pro-government demonstration Friday in downtown Caracas marked the end of months of campaigning for the Dec. 2 referendum, which, if passed, will enable President Hugo Chavez to run for re-election indefinitely.

The changes are almost universally opposed by Venezuela’s 12,000 Jews.

“I doubt that any Jew will vote yes,” a community leader who asked not to be named said Friday. “If this passes, Chavez can be re-elected indefinitely, but no one else. Imagine the chutzpah. He’s already been in office nine years, and his current term ends in 2013. Isn’t 14 years enough already?”

On Thursday, a rally by Venezuelans against Chávez’s 69 proposed changes to the constitution drew more than 200,000 people. Latest polls indicate the “no” camp may win, in large part because Chávez has alienated large sections of Venezuelan society, including the Catholic Church, with his insults and accusations.

But violence may flare up either way.

“If ‘no’ wins on Sunday, he ain’t giving up,” the community leader told JTA. “If the vote is very close, there’ll be a lot of turbulence in the country. But if ‘no’ really wins by a large margin, there may be a coup here. The no’s this time won’t let their victory be taken away. And if ‘yes’ wins, I don’t know if the no’s will accept it.”

Thousands of Venezuelan Jews have emigrated to the United States, Panama, Israel and elsewhere since a failed coup against Chávez in 2003. Community leaders warn that if Sunday’s referendum passes, more Jews are likely to leave.

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