CARACAS, Venezuela (JTA) — A group of squatters who forcefully entered a building in Caracas, Venezuela, that houses a synagogue left peaceably.
A group of 20 homeless people, including children, left the building Monday morning after negotiations with the police and community leaders.
They had broken into the three-story building before sunrise Monday and occupied some of the vacant apartments on the second and third floors, saying they considered the building unused and would press for its expropriation by the government so the building could be turned into apartments for the homeless.
Representatives of the Jewish community said that there was no damage to Bet Abraham, a synagogue that was established more than a decade ago on the building’s first floor. The building has been undergoing renovations for the last two years, according to reports.
“The action’s objective was not to disturb the normal activities of the synagogue and the protesters did not enter the religious grounds, nor did they act in a disrespectful manner,” said the Venezuelan Confederation of Israelite Associations in a statement.
The confederation said the squatters left the building following the intervention of the district’s mayor, Jorge Rodriguez, who is a member of President Hugo Chavez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
While the confederation did not believe the action was religiously motivated, anti-government observers pointed out that the squatters’ invasion attempt came a week after Catholic imagery was shot at in another provincial city.
“These people know exactly what they are doing even if they might not know what a synagogue really is,” wrote one anti-government blogger. “But they have heard the anti-Jewish talk of the regime, the anti-Catholic [rhetoric] of Chavez, [and] the unacceptable recomedation [sic] of the ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ on the Venezuelan national state radio no less.”
Chavez has verbally sparred in the past with the Catholic hierarchy in Venezuela, which has been outspoken in denouncing what it describes as the erosion of democracy under his rule.