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Jewish School Raided in Venezuela

BY BENNY AVNI | Special to the Sun

December 2, 2004 | President Chavez's internal security forces raided a Caracas Jewish grade school earlier this week while he was on an international tour to tighten Middle Eastern alliances and raise the stakes in an arms race with neighboring Columbia. The invasion crossed what Jewish organizations called a "red line" in relations with the nation's Jews.

The pretext for the brazen police raid at the grade school Colegio Hebraica Monday morning was a search for weapons, though none were found. Jewish organizations, however, say the real reason was an escalating anti-Jewish campaign, including a government inspired accusation that the Israeli Mossad conspired to kill a national prosecutor, perhaps as part of Mr. Chavez's attempt to be seen as friendly to anti-Israeli regimes.

"This is a red line," the American Jewish Committee's director of Latin American affairs, Dina Siegel Vann, told The New York Sun. "Up to this point, despite clear human rights violations by the Chavez government, the Jewish community has not been touched."

According to the Confederation of Israelite Associations of Venezuela, the nation's top Jewish organization, as parents dropped their children off and school buses were arriving at the start of the school day Monday morning, some 20 police officers equipped with a search warrant issued by a judge named Maikel Moreno meticulously searched the school.

"The documented act where they drew up their conclusions of the procedure - in the presence of witnesses - it was left clear that the result of that operation was fruitless," added the group's statement, which was issued in Caracas the day of the raid.

Several Jewish activists said the search was linked to the recent high profile assassination of Prosecutor Danilo Anderson, whom the government had put at the head of an investigation into last year's failed coup attempt against Mr. Chavez. The coup attempt was suspected by many, in and out of Venezuela, to have been inspired and supported by Washington.

The Venezuelan press, including a report on state-run TV, speculated that the bomb that was used to kill Mr. Anderson carried Mossad fingerprints. "Recent reports in Venezuelan media irresponsibly allege Mossad involvement in the assassination," the Anti-Defamation League said yesterday in a statement that expressed "deep concern that these allegations might be connected to the raid."

Others connected the raid to Mr. Chavez's high-profile international tour that included a stop in Russia, where an arms deal was signed, and several in the Middle Eastern capitals, where the president went out of his way to display solidarity with the likes of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

As the Caracas raid was ongoing, Mr. Chavez flaunted his anti-American credentials in Tehran. "Iran-Venezuela ties are strategic and purposeful and the two countries are not under the influence of any foreign country, while both are opposed to the idea of a unipolar world," the Tehran Times quoted him as saying after a meeting with President Khatami.

The Financial Times, meanwhile, reported that neighboring Colombia sees "a creeping military threat" from Venezuela. The paper cited a deal Mr. Chavez signed in Moscow on the weekend for a delivery of 40 Russian helicopters, as well as an agreement to buy 100,000 semiautomatic rifles.

What worried Colombia even more, according to the FT, is that the deal is expected to be followed by Venezuela's acquisition of a fleet of the most advanced model of the Mig-29 fighter jet. According to some reports, Mr. Chavez wants to buy as many as 50 Mig-29 SMT warplanes.

The move is seen by Colombian defense officials as an attempt to reach par with President Uribe's defense forces, which recently procured new American arms as part of its war with the leftist guerrilla group FARC.

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