By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – President Hugo Chávez' government would appear to be totally intent on depicting the recent attack on a synagogue in the Venezuelan capital as a deliberately self-inflicted act aimed at discrediting the regime.
The idea that the attack and occupation of the synagogue was some sort of owngoal-on-purpose has been hanging in the air for some days, and has now been given the official seal of approval by Interior and Justice Minister tarek El Aissami.
On Monday, the minister announced that 11 people including seven police officers and four civilians – two of whom were said to be "common criminals" – had been arrested in connection with the attack on the synagogue in the Maripérez district of Caracas.
All the suspects have been named, including Víctor Eduardo Escalona Lovera. The minister described him as the security chief at the synagogue and bodyguard of the rabbi – and, he alleged, had "directed" the armed assault on the building.
It was also revealed that Escalona Lovera was an officer in the Metropolitan Police force. The six other police suspects include five other officers of the Metropolitan Police, a deputy inspector from the PoliCaracas force in the Libertador municipality in west Caracas and a female detective from the homicide squad at the scientific and investigative police, Cicpc.
El Aissami then went on to say that the results reinforce the hypothesis of internal complicity as the chief of this band of security personnel met the rabbi of this synagogue until December 2008.
El Aissami explained that this officer was well aware of Metropolitan Police operations and the internal structure of the synagogue, as well as the points where the security devices were located in the temple.
With this in mind, El Aissami reiterated that "the complicity of one of the guards, who facilitated the operation led by the rabbi's bodyguard, was one of the determining factors for the commission of this crime."
Here are the names of the 11 men arrested: Alexander Edgar Cordero, Soledad Torres Muñoz Yadira Charles Angelo de Jesus, Luis Eduardo Castillo Guerrero, Francisco José Pérez Díaz, José Mejias Milla Alonso, Víctor Eduardo Escalona Lobera (security head of the temple), Rafael Enrique Colina Mogollón Orlando Perez and Jose Diaz, the latter two being identified as common criminals.
The synagogue was forcibly entered by a group of 15 individuals carrying firearms late at night on January 30. They then occupied the building for the following four hours, inflicting a degree of damage on the interior and exterior of the building, mostly involving paint spraying.
A newspaper report late last week quoted unidentified investigators as having said that religious icons including the Torah (Jewish Bible) were left unscathed. These details have been held up to support the argument that the attack was carried out by members of the Jewish faith. The attackers left behind no indication of their religious or political orientation, and nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the incident.
The assailants left before dawn the next day. Ever since, there have been persistent questions about how they could have gotten away from the scene of the crime after spending so much time inside the building.
El Aissami and the government have been under pressure to produce results in the investigation of the case, amid suspicions that some of president's hard line supporters may have been responsible.
The attack on the synagogue came after Chávez directed harshly worded criticism against Israel for its recent military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Late last week, a newspaper report cited unidentified "investigators" as "not ruling out" a "self-attack" on the synagogue.
Leading Venezuelan Rabbi Pynchas Brener expressed his surprise that the government would try to blame the Jews for these attacks. "Jews feel that these are anti-Semitic expressions equal to the attacks upon Jews that have taken place over the centuries claiming that Jews are kidnapping children and using their blood for Passover Mass," Brener told the Latin American Herald Tribune. "It is simply not true."
The minister declined to say whether any of the suspects were linked with the opposition, but said there were indications that other people had been involved in the incident.
Faced with the suspicion that the attack involved hard line supporters of the president, El Aissami declared there was "nothing more distant from being a revolucionary than he who generates violence, that with irrationality tries to impose his arguments."
The minister reiterated the government's earlier insistence that violence instigated for racial or religious reasons would not be tolerated.
That said, a virulently anti-Israeli statement worded in language that can only be described as fascistic recently appeared on a website described as one of "major importance" to the president's supporters or chavistas.
The statement was posted, apparently on January 21 this year, in the name of an individual identifiying himself as Emilio Silva, who claimed to be a Professor at UBV, the Bolivarian University of Venezuela founded by Chavez in 2003 on Apporea.com, the leading website of Chavez supporters. (www.apporea.org/ddhh/a70960.html was the exact address, but it has since been removed). This spoke of the "savageries of the Zionist Jews" and noted that "two Jewish citizens occupy high positions" at the national telecommunications commission, Conatel.
It went on to describe Salomón Cohen, proprietor of the Sambil chain of shopping malls – including an almost completed project in downtown Caracas that Chávez has announced he's expropriating – as "this imbecile."
Multinationals "linked with the Zionist regime in Israel" should be shunned, the statement continued, going on to name a string of some of the biggest names best known to Venezuela's army of avid consumers.
Then the statement went further: Businesses belonging to "Zionist Jews" or which backed the "Nazifascit" Jewish state should be confiscated. Jews should be obliged in public to proclaim in favor of Palestine, and Jewish officials should be weeded out of state jobs, it added.
The state intelligence agencies were urged in the statement to detect "hidden agents of Mossad" – the Israeli intelligence network – and members of non-governmental organizations who had received advice or financing from the "artificial state of Israel."
Also singled out for action by the statement were "squalid students at private and autonomous universities" – "escaulido" has long been the president's pet epithet for middle class or upper income people who don't happen to agree with him.
Departing from the domestic scene, the statement called for an international conference to confront the "Eurogringo genocidal colony of Israel" and for Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the Venezuelan terrorist more commonly known as Carlos The Jackal who is jailed in France, to be freed "without condition."
More seriously, former Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel in his regular column under his “Marciano” byline wrote an article last week accusing opposition leaders Yon Goicochea, Antonio Ledezma and Henrique Capriles of being a “Satanic Trio” having the backing of Mossad and setting up an intelligence network to destabilize the Government with Mossad’s help.
"Many in the Jewish community feel that the climate of confrontation in the country -- the discrediting of Israel, the breaking of relations with Israel, the expelling of the Ambassador of Israel -- has created a hostile environment against Jews in the country," leading Venezuelan Rabbi Brener told the Latin American Herald Tribune. "Venezuelans do not differ between Jews and Israelis, and the aggressive and conflictive environment that the government's statements create -- equating Zionism with racism, for example -- permit these kind of things to happen. Regrettably, this is not an isolated event."