Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Latin America takes a stand, principled and distinctive, in support of the people of Gaza

Brazil, Chile, Peru, El Salvador and Ecuador have recalled their ambassadors from Tel Aviv denouncing  the disproportionate use of Israeli military force in which innocent civilians including women and children have been killed.  Chile has suspended its trade talks with Israel. During the Mercosur summit on 29 July, the Presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela issued a joint statement condemning Israel and calling for lifting the siege in Gaza. Venezuela had issued a stronger statement on behalf of the 9-member ALBA (Bolivarian alternative) group. The Bolivian President Evo Morales called Israel as a " terrorist state" and has appealed to the UNHCR (UN Human Rights Commission) to consider " crimes against humanity" and " genocide" by Israel. Most other Latin American governments have also issued strong statements, revolted by the bombings of schools and hospitals. 

Venezuela and Bolivia had cut off diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 and Nicaragua in 2010 after the last Israeli offensives. Cuba had done it in 1973 as part of its ideological support to the Palestine cause.

The Latin American media has joined the condemnation by taking their own stand refusing to buy the distorted stories and opinions of the biased US media. Latin American Nobel Prize winners Pérez Esquivel of Argentina and Rigoberta Menchú of Guatemala have called for a military embargo against Israel as done against South Africa during apartheid.

Latin America is home to over 500,000 Jews of which 200,000 live in Argentina, 100,000 in Brazil and 50,000 in Mexico. The Jews in Latin America have significant financial clout and control a lot of business. But the Latin American governments have not let the local jewish communities to hijack their foreign policy unlike in US where the Jewish lobby has taken over the middle east policy from the State Department. More importantly, the Jews in Latin America have assimilated themselves fully in the local societies and do not blindly support whatever Israel does. In fact, the Jewish community of Brazil apologized to the Brazilian government over the 'dwarf' statement by the Israeli foreign office spokesman. When Israel tried to interfere in the Argentine investigation of the 1994 Buenos Aires Jewish Centre bombing, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman (He is a Jew and his father had lived in Israel after he was exiled by the Argentine military in the early 1980s) told the Israeli ambassador on 31 January 2013 ( Times of Israel report on 6 february 2013) that “Israel does not speak for the Jewish people and isn’t their agent. Jews who wanted to live in Israel moved there and became citizens, and those who live in Argentina are Argentine citizens.” 

Chile has the largest Palestine community of around 400,000, followed by Honduras with 200,000, Mexico- 100,000 and other countries have smaller numbers. But most of these are Christians and they have not stood up in any significant way for the Palestine cause. 

Israel owes a original debt to Latin America. Out of the 33 votes for the 1949 UN resolution partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, 13 were from Latin America. These 13 included Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela which have now taken diplomatic action against Israel.  Mexico and Colombia, who  have reacted mildly to the Gaza offensive now as part of their pro-US policy, had abstained in that crucial voting. In the years after the creation of Israel, many Latin American countries had taken Pro-Israeli positions in global fora because of the US influence with the rightist authoritarian regimes in Latin America, with whom Israel had cozy relations. But most Latin American countries changed their stance after the Israeli occupation of Palestine territories and after the restoration of democracies in their own countries. Many Latin American countries have recognized Palestine as an independent state and were sponsors of the UN resolution declaring 2014 as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestine People.

The vocal criticism and strong language used by Latin America stands out as the loudest in comparison to the subdued response of the Asian and African countries who used to voice their concerns aloud in the past. The Latin American condemnation contrasts with the condoning of Israeli actions by US. The impunity with which Israel has killed over 1400 civilians and the solid  support it receives from US remind many Latin Americans of the atrocities committed by right wing Latin American military dictatorships with similar US backing. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, a pragmatic and respected Latin American leader, has likened her political exile in Europe during the Pinochet dictatorship to the plight of Palestinian refugees denied the right to return home. This memory has triggered the Latin American governments to react strongly and go beyond the response of many countries around the world. 

Earlier in the year, Brazil was criticized by the US congressmen and media for not taking a strong stand against Venezuelan government after the death of 40 people during the anti-government protests. The Brazilians ask what  has US done when 1400 people have been massacred by the targeted bombing of hospitals and schools in Gaza?  Disgusted by the hypocrisy and double standard of US and Europe, the people of Latin America have come to appreciate the  conscientious and responsible position taken by their governments on issues such as the Gaza tragedy.

There is a larger political message to the world. The vocal and principled stand taken by Latin Americans is yet another clear sign of their growing independence and assertiveness in the global stage. 

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