It is not certain when Jews first arrived in Venezuela, but most accounts suggest that there were Conversos living in Caracas and Maracaibo in the mid-16th century. Though there were no established Jewish communities in Venezuela during this period, interactions with merchants from nearby Dutch colonies, such as Curaçao, most likely brought some Jewish traders to the country. The following centuries saw almost no traces of Jewish life in Venezuela.
In the early nineteenth century, Venezuela fought against the Spanish colonizers in an effort to gain independence. During the wars of independence, a number of Jews fought in Simón Bolívar’s army and at one point, Curaçaoan Jews gave him shelter and military aid. When Venezuela gained its independence in 1811, relations between the Republic and Jews were friendly, evident by the adoption of a new constitution in 1821 that affirmed religious freedom in the country. The adoption of religious freedom and strengthening of ties with the Dutch island colonies, which had sizeable Jewish populations, saw a permanent Jewish community begin to establish itself in Venezuela.
The 19th century saw a steady stream of Jewish immigration to Venezuela, with some Portuguese and Dutch Jews from Curaçao arriving in the city of Coro around 1827, and a group of Moroccan Jews later settling in the town of Barcelona in 1844. Though many of these Jewish arrivals were able to achieve certain levels of prominence in various industries, Jews were not universally accepted throughout the country. Assimilation also became a problem for many members of the community, particularly those who arrived from Curaçao. In fact, by the end of the 19th century, Dutch Jews in Venezuela had virtually disappeared, absorbed into the non-Jewish portion of Venezuelan society. Nevertheless, many Venezuelan Jews prospered and were able to achieve certain levels of prominence in various industries.
The arrival of Jews from North Africa and later Eastern and Central Europe after World War I and throughout the 1920s bolstered Venezuelan Jewry and helped establish organized Jewish communal institutions. Following World War II and the Holocaust, there was an increase of Jewish immigrants from Europe, despite immigration restrictions. The Jewish population in Venezuela continued to grow through the following decade, particularly after the fall of the dictator, Perez Jimenez in 1958. During the Six-Day War in 1967, some Venezuelan Jewish volunteers went to Israel to help fight. The Venezuelan Jewish community was further bolstered by the arrival of Jews from countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and even Israel in the 1960s and later Jews from other Latin American countries during the 1970s. A very important migration came from Spanish Morocco during the 60´ (sixties) and 70´ (seventies) shaping the actual community.
Venezuelan Jews held many prominent positions throughout Venezuela over the latter half of the 20thh century. Paulina Gamus Gallegos became a member of the National Assembly, serving as a representative for the Federal District from 1977 to 1986. Ruth de Krivoy later served as the President of the Central Bank of Venezuela from 1992 to 1994. However, the end of the century saw the Venezuelan Jewish community begin to experience a decline in population due to political and economic issues and a rise in antisemitic rhetoric. This trend continued into the 21st century.
Today, Venezuelan Jews continue to be able to practice Judaism freely and openly, but antisemitism continues to be an issue for the Jewish community. Henrique Capriles (not a practicing jew) , the grandson of Holocaust survivors, served as the Governor of Miranda from 2008 to 2017. Recent economic hardships in Venezuela have seen a number of Venezuelan Jews leave the country, with many emigrating for Israel.