The Expelled Jews of Coro

This was the first time that Jews had been driven out of an independent nation in South America.

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In 1827, a group of Jews emigrated from the tiny island of Curacao to the nearby mainland port city of Coro, Venezuela. Twenty-eight years later, violent rioting drove the entire Jewish population–168 individuals–back to Curacao.

The hostility directed at Coro’s Jews was partly economic in nature. Venezuela’s banking system was in chaos, its government corrupt, and unemployment rampant. Xenophobia–resentment of foreigners–was running high.

Curocaon Jews had immigrated to Coro at the urging of the colony’s Dutch government. In 1831, the Creole residents of Coro rioted to protest the rapid economic success that the immigrant Jewish shopkeepers and merchants had attained. While the local government suppressed the riots, in 1832 it imposed a special security bond which only Coro’s Jewish merchants had to pay.

The Jewish businessmen protested, so in 1835 the local government revised the tax so that all foreign entrepreneurs, not just Jews, had to pay twice as much for their business licenses as native-born Venezuelans. Despite this burden, and despite the hostility of the population, the Jewish merchants of Coro prospered. Historian Isidoro Aizenberg, writing in the journal of the American Jewish Historical Society, observed, “Their success could not have gone unnoticed, either by the population or the government.”

Starting in the 1840s, the municipal government of Coro and the local military garrison asked the Jewish community for loans as advances against their taxes. These were made interest free, and at times were simply “voluntary” contributions as it became clear that the loans would not be repaid. Aizenberg notes, “With the passing of time these payments became not a financial resource which the government could tap in case of urgent need, but a regular source of funds which it came to expect as a matter of course.”

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Michael Feldberg, Ph.D. is executive director of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom. From 1991 to 2004, he served as executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, the nation's oldest ethnic historical organization, and from 2004 to 2008 was its director of research.

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