Top Venezuelan opposition figure asks Jewish expats to return
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Top Venezuelan opposition figure asks Jewish expats to return

Maria Corina Machado thanks Netanyahu for recognizing Juan Guaido as interim president; says she hopes many who were forced to leave will now come back to rebuild nation

Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, a former lawmaker, greets supporters during a vigil in honor of those who have been killed during clashes between security forces and demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela, on July 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, a former lawmaker, greets supporters during a vigil in honor of those who have been killed during clashes between security forces and demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela, on July 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

A top Venezuelan opposition figure on Monday asked Jews who left the country for Israel and other countries over the past years, to return and join the effort to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Maria Corina Machado, the national coordinator of the center-right Vente Venezuela party, thanked Israel for recognizing National Assembly President Juan Guaido as the oil-rich nation’s president, and backed the reestablishment of ties between the countries.

“I want to reaffirm the valuable contribution the Jewish community has given to the development of Venezuela through decades. And even though many have been forced to leave our country, we want and expect that they come back to rebuild our nation,” she said in an English-language video statement given to Israeli public broadcaster Kan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s leader on Sunday, drawing an almost instantaneous expression of gratitude from Guaido. The move followed the United States, Canada and most Latin American countries backing the upstart rival.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu joins our many allies in the hemisphere and the world in welcoming Venezuela back to the bloc of Western democratic nations that oppose despots and oppression. We certainly have a common enemy with Israel: the criminal forces that undermine freedom and peace in the world,” Machado said.

She also touted Venezuela’s history of support for Israel and hoped for the reestablishment of diplomatic ties, which were cut by President Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, during the 2008-9 Gaza war.

“Venezuela was one of the nations that back in 1947 in the General Assembly of the United Nations supported Resolution 181 that led to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Since then, we’ve had good and strong diplomatic relations. That’s why we, the Venezuelan people, look forward to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the State of Israel,” she said.

Venezuela official cut ties with Israel in 2009, but has been a strident critic of the Jewish state for decades.

Despite pressure from the US, Netanyahu was reportedly initially reluctant to extend recognition to Guiado, fearing the Maduro regime could respond negatively against the Venezuelan Jewish community.

While Venezuela once had one of the largest Jewish communities in the region, numbering some 25,000 in 1999, only about 6,000 Jews are believed to remain in the country, with many having fled to Israel, Canada, the US and elsewhere.

Nicolas Maduro, right, follows Venezuela’s then-President Hugo Chavez as they arrive to a ceremony declaring Chavez winner of presidential elections at the Electoral Council in Caracas, Venezuela, on October 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

In her statement, Machado said Israel can be a “genuine partner” in helping rebuild Venezuela following years of economic mismanagement and hyperinflation, while also noting the significance of the January 27 date on which Netanyahu made the announcement.

“I want to express how meaningful it was for the Venezuelan people that this recognition [by Netanyahu] for the genuine government of Venezuela came precisely on the day of Holocaust recognition,” she said.

Sunday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, by Soviet troops.

Venezuela’s National Assembly head and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido talks to journalists outside the National Assembly in Caracas on January 29, 2019. (Yuri Cortez/AFP)

“I myself look forward to visiting the state of Israel as soon as we [acquire] our freedom. We will prevail,” Machado added.

Late Sunday, Guiado thanked Israel for recognizing him as Venezuela’s leader and linked his political struggle with the end of the Holocaust.

“Seventy-four years ago, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated, and today, just as our country is also fighting for its freedom, we thank the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu for the recognition and the support,” Guaido tweeted.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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