Last May, Santiago Cuneo, an Argentinean “journalist” who politically identifies as Peronist and Kirchnerista, stated in his television show — similar in style and rhetoric to Alex Jones’- that Jewish citizens of Argentina are not to be trusted because they have double allegiance: to Israel, as the nation of all Jews, and to Argentina; and that between both of them most choose the former one. He questioned the present of Israeli citizens backpacking across Patagonia every year, suggesting they are duplicitous with Jewish Argentines. He invoked Plan Andinia, an antisemetic hoax in which Israeli infiltrates and takes over Patagonia.” He called Argentine president Mauricio Macri a “political partner of international Zionism” for visiting Israel.
Cuneo’s oral manifesto went viral across multiple platforms, such as What’s App, Facebook, YouTube, and endless email chains, sparking a public debate over Argentinean Jews’ sacred and exclusive loyalty towards Israel. Pro-Cuneo posts offered many cases of public figures, all of them Jewish, that were Mossad double agents or involved in dealings with Zionist organizations. The list included journalists, politicians, prosecutors, ministers, and entrepreneurs that one way or another had criticized or opposed the Kirchner Administration. Cuneo was fired for his antisemetic outburst but his views are not his alone. Antisemitic hoaxes like Plan Andinia still affect Argentina’s political landscape.
Jews have been scapegoats of society’s problems and calamities since biblical times. They conspired with Muslims to conquer the Iberian Peninsula, they spread the Black Death, were behind the Lisbon earthquake, and manipulated the French Revolution to their own advantage. The birth of the modern and contemporary “fake news”-conspiracy theory involving Jews is to be found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The text, fabricated circa 1903 in Czarist Russia by its secret police, the Okhrana, to legitimize the Pogroms of 1903-1096, was meant to showcase the meeting minutes of Jewish leaders where they discussed their goal at global hegemony by corrupting the morality of Gentiles, controlling the press, and managing the world economy. The antisemitic hoax became the ultimate historical evidence of Jews’ global dominating and manipulating intentions; and of their disloyalty to all except Jews themselves. Henry Ford supported the printing of half a million copies; it was mandatory reading in schools during Nazism; Nasser and Qadhafi endorsed it as authentic.
While its fabrication has been exposed since the 1920s, in a way the Protocols succeeded; while not being quoted as much as before, many nativist populist governments, far right political parties, and white supremacist organizations are still influenced by their contents. Even more dangerously, many conservatives and progressives have expressed similar views when accusing Soros of imposing multiculturalism on Europe to degrade Christianity and Western values, and when denunciating the Rothschilds and others as the banking cartel behind world finances.
Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, actually preferred Patagonia as the land destined for the Jewish people and for the creation of a Jewish nation. The British, in a strategic move, convinced him to opt for Palestine instead. Nevertheless, Herzl’s preference for Argentina for a Jewish homeland paved the way for the Plan Andinia conspiracy theory.
In the early 1960s, after Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was abducted, tried and executed by Israel, Eichmann’s sons set out to convince the Argentine population that the kidnapping was the first step of a plan to colonize Patagonia. It was only in 1971 that Plan Andinia acquired mainstream status in Argentina by the hand of Walter Beveraggi Allende. An economics professor with a PhD from Harvard, who supported Peron in 1945, he was later arrested and deemed an enemy by Peronism in 1948 because of his ultra-nationalist/fascist views. Allende’s Plan Andinia incorporated previous Jewish immigration to Argentina as a precursor for colonization and, more importantly, Jewish control over Argentina’s economy. Specifically, how Jewish migration, backed by the London Rothschild branch, brought needed capital to the country, boosting its growth at the expense of having its finances and trade controlled by a few Jewish families with ties to Great Britain. Following Allende, every economic crisis was designed and controlled by those families, forcing Argentinean governments to request the British, and then the Americans, for credit in exchange for further control over the economy and the sale of public lands, in Patagonia, for trifling prices.
This Argentinean version of the Protocols spread like wildfire among the public. Nevertheless, it became very popular among three powerful sectors: the right-wing Peronists; the Armed Forces; and the Catholic Church. All of them promoted deeply nationalistic narratives that defined Argentina as part of Western-Christian civilization and as a crusader nation against existential enemies. Jews were considered foreign to the nation and colluding against it. Right-wing Peronism saw them as lackeys to the British or the Americans; the military considered them a virus that infected the country through communism, and sex; and the Catholic Church regarded them as polluters of a Christian nation. Naturally, these predispositions made them take Plan Andinia as a revealed truth about Jews’ plans for Argentina.
Die-hard nationalist Peronists, such as Santiago Cuneo, Luis D’Elia, Jorge Elbaum, and Adrian Salbuchi, have linked the selling of lands in Patagonia to foreigners, like Benetton and Turner, to Plan Andinia. They have incited acts of violence, which have been on the rise since 2013, against Israeli tourists and Jewish Argentinean communities in the region. Additionally, they believe that that the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the AMIA Jewish community center in 1994, both in Buenos Aires with a combined toll of 107 fatalities, were executed by the Mossad and not by a collaboration of Iranian agents, Hezbollah, and far-right nationalists of the Argentinean security services.
In fact, they even dispute the veracity of the murder of Alberto Nisman, the Prosecutor investigating the AMIA terrorist attack who was found dead in his apartment in January 2015, three days after accusing the then President Cristina Fernandez de Kircher and members of her cabinet of obstruction of justice in the investigation of the bombing. According to them, Nisman either committed suicide or was killed by Mossad, in either case the goal was to topple the Fernandez administration. Furthermore, Cuneo and Elbaum even disclosed manufactured evidence of a meeting between Nisman, Jewish Argentinean leaders, and Paul Singer — the manager of EMC, the largest Argentine sovereign debt holder in the world, and Jewish- in 2014 where they decided to conspire against the Argentinean government because of its rapprochement with Iran. This “fake news” became viral in April 2015 and was shared through multiple platforms and even posted by the President Fernandez de Kircher in her Facebook profile. Populism rhetoric allows ultra-nationalist and antisemitic discourses to be shared by both right and left in Argentina.
Furthermore, the spread of this fake news prompted Juan Gabriel Labaké, another notorious nationalist Peronist,to file a criminal accusation against a group of Jewish Argentinean leaders, asking the judiciary to charge them with the crime of treason against the homeland. Once again, regardless of how absurd all of this sounds, many people bought it or believed it enough to share the story online or comment about it as a factual truth. Considering Argentinean history, this was extremely dangerous. During the last military Junta, many of the kidnapped Jewish Argentineans, among them Jacobo Timmerman, were seriously interrogated about Plan Andinia while being tortured. Most of them were persecuted because of their religion and not their political affiliation -after all less than 1% of Argentinean population is Jewish but between 5%-8% of tortured and desaparecidos were Jewish-, which made them potentially disloyal.
Plan Andinia is still among us and still considered a fact by some in government. In 2003, the Argentinean head of the military during Nestor Kircher administration, Roberto Bendini, claimed in front of cadets that Israel was actively planning to take over Patagonia with the assistance of local Jewish communities. In 2012, a hostel belonging to a Jewish couple in El Bolson, Patagonia, was burned to the ground by local people, assisted by the military police, because it was thought to be a safe house for Mossad agents, after an email chain claiming such information. In another series of What’s App messages, the current Macri administration was accused of planning to exchange foreign debt relief with hedge funds and the IMF for all of Patagonia and that the main figure behind this plan was the husband of the current Federal Minister of Security, who is Jewish and secretly has Israeli citizenship and works for Mossad. Lastly, during the recent debate regarding legalizing abortion, legislators, public figures, and journalists were arguing that pro-choice people were being manipulated by international organizations controlled by Israel in order to stop demographic growth in Argentina and take over its lands and resources. What was their source? Fabricated texts distributed by the Argentine Catholic Church in schools.
Plan Andinia and these subsequent “fake news” and conspiracy theories are not isolated and fringe antisemitic episodes. On the contrary, they are part of racism in Argentina, they are part of a quite wide white nationalist and supremacist view that sees Argentina as a White, European, and Christian nation. Peronism and Kirchnerismo are not immune to it. Both are deeply nationalistic, and they see any critique on the homeland as antipatriotic, and treasonous. Lately, they have developed and anti-immigration discourse against Venezuelan refugees, and an anti-patriotic stance against any land claims from indigenous communities, particularly in Patagonia, going so far as to claim that they are being manipulated by Chile and Israel.
Fake news about corruption or sex gossips are bad enough and can quite affect politics, but targeting minorities with conspiracy theories is anti-democratic and causes violence. The recent white supremacist terror attacks in Pittsburgh, El Paso, and Christchurch among others, were all driven by the idea of the “White Replacement” that has been openly discussed by the media as a fact. Argentina has a long and extensive history of far right Catholic and white nationalist terrorism. The Jewish community has been a target of terror groups and of the Argentine state, both during dictatorship and democracy, since the early 20th century. The resurgence and recycling of Plan Andinia is not a fringe phenomenon. If we add populist rhetoric and politics, we risk repeating the past.
Finally, this October Argentina will hold Presidential elections, and while all campaigns have used “fake news”, only two of them have used them to attack minorities. The Kirchnerista one has once again resurfaced the collusion between Macri and the IMF to sell Patagonia to foreign powers. However, more dangerously, the far-right pro-military candidate has advanced the case that foreign and non-Christian organizations are bringing immigrants to the country to replace white Christian Argentineans and that are promoting the legalization of abortion, equal marriage, and non-binary gender norms to destroy the Argentine people. Fake news and conspiracy theories spread by pamphlets and books have already been responsible for the torture and killing of hundreds of Jews in Argentina; how many could be victims when these stories become viral in multiple ways, can be rendered believable, can access almost the entire population of a country, and are directly or indirectly reinforced by populist governments?
Emmanuel Guerisoli is a PhD Candidate in Sociology and History at the New School for Social Research in New York City.