Latin American Jewish History begins with The Expulsion from Spain. One day after the expulsion took place, on August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus began his voyage across The Atlantic Ocean in search of a sea route to India. Columbus had recieved much of the money needed to finance his expedition from Marranos. Jews made many of his maps. Some members of his crew were Marranos. They arrived in The West Indies and became the first Jews in The New World. In the next few decades, many Marranos from Spain and Pourtugal made new homes for themselves in Brazil, Mexico, and Peru due to the excesses of The Inquisition. The first Jews to arrive in Argentina were Marranos from Spain and Portugal but they assimilated quickly.
Mexican Jewish History begins in 1521, when Hernan Cortez and his tiny Spanish Army, which included a number of Marranos, destroyed The Aztec Empire and founded the Spanish colony of New Spain. Despite persecution brought on when The Inquisiton extended its reach into The New World, Jews managed to survive and engage in trade, commerce, and even held government posts.
Brazil, which was a Portuguese possesssion until The Dutch conquered it in 1631. Many Marranos lived in Brazil, especially in Recife. Under Dutch rule, they were able to openly return to Judaism. They started a Sefardic synagogue and in 1642 they brought Rabbi Isaac Aboab da Fonseca from Amsterdam to serve their community. However, in 1654 The Portuguese reconquered Recife and reintroduced The Inquisition. The Jews were once again forced to flee. Some returned to Amsterdam and some went to 2 Dutch colonies in The Caribbean Sea, Surinam and Curacao. 23 of the exiles from Recife sailed first to The West Indies and then up The North American coast to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.
In Colonial Latin America Jews once again had to pretend to be Christian. They had to be Jewish secretly. Some were caught and punished and some were burned at the stake. Between 1808 and 1826, when the colonies were fighting for independence from Spain, freedom of religion was introduced. In 1816, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay abolished The Inquisition. Due to this, Jewish immigration to Latin America increased because people wanted to escape the severe oppression in Russia, and Eastern Europe. Most settled in Brazil and Argentina. In Argentina, they took advantage of the open door policy. In addition to the immigrants from Eastern Europe, many Jews arrived in Argentina from Western Europe in The Mid 1800's.
In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain. After years of chaos and dictatorship, during the presidency of Benito Juarez, a civil war broke out. In 1862, Archduke Maximillian of Hapsburg, who was supported by Napoleon III of France, became emperor of Mexico. Maximillian's personal physician was Samuel Bosch, a Jew from Austria, and during his reign Jewish immigration to Mexico increased. In 1867, after Juarez overthrew Maximillian, Mexico's Jewish populace continued to grow. After World War I, there were pogroms in Eastern Europe and many more Jews came to Mexico as a safe haven. Numbers of them settled in Mexico City, where they prospered despite the growing Anti-Semitism and the imposition of a quota on Jewish immigration. After World War II, the pace of immigration picked up.
Baron Maurice de Hirsch encouraged immigration to Argentina. In 1891, he purchased more than 500,000 acres of land and donated $10 million a huge sum in those days, to set up The Jewish Colonization Association, which funded a number of agricultural colonies in Argentina. By 1925, there were 30,000 Jews engaged in farming and cattle ranching. Colonization attempts were also made in Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, and Uruguay but failed. These Jewish farmers encountered many difficulties and today most of Argentina's Jews are concentrated in the big cities, especially Buenos Aires. Between 1901 and 1914, conditions in Eastern Europe deteriorated and immigration to Argentina reached a high of more than 100,000 new arrivals. In The 1930's, the Argentine government instituted a series of restrictive immigration laws when the need for a safe haven was greatest due to the rise of Nazism. This brought a decrease in Jewish immigration. Despite this, some Jews managed to legally and illegally immigrate to Argentina. Others went to Brazil, Panama, Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Recently, Sfardic Jews have immigrated to Latin American countries from The Middle East and The Mediterranean. Anti-Semitism continues to be a problem in Argentina and on March 17, 1992, a massive terrorist bomb destroyed The Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.
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