The brutal Israeli assault on Gaza, the fourth in less than ten years (2006, 2008-2009, 2012 and now again), has triggered a burst of solidarity in Latin America. Dozens of protests have taken place, in Chile, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela, among other countries. While these demonstrations were organized on the initiative of Arab organizations — in particular drawn from the Palestinian diaspora — several other civil society groups participated, including labor unions, indigenous and black movements, grassroots organizations and representatives of left-wing parties.
At more than half a million, Latin Americans of Palestinian descent are the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Arab world. The majority are descendants of a pre-nakba generation of migrants that joined the upper and upper-middle classes of the host societies, but smaller waves of migration, mainly to Brazil and Venezuela, occurred from the 1950s onward. These new arrivals moved along a different socio-economic trajectory.
In Chile, where the Palestinian diaspora is particularly well represented among political and business elites, the pro-Palestinian movement has found a vibrant echo among legislators, thanks to the Chile-Palestine Inter-Parliamentary Group, a coalition of MPs from both left- and right-wing parties. With 46 members in the House of Deputies, which has a total membership of 120, it is currently the largest of binational friendship groups. On July 14, these deputies held up signs bearing the slogan: “End the Slaughter in Gaza. No More Occupation in Palestine.”
Some Latin American governments have taken clear positions vis-à-vis the slaughter. Not surprisingly, on July 9, Venezuela was the first country to issue a statement that “strongly rejects the attacks in the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces” against “the heroic Palestinian people” and urges Israel “to stop immediately these attacks that go against international law and against elementary respect for life and human dignity.” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro himself launched an “SOS Palestine” campaign to demand an end to Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza. Venezuela was rapidly followed by the other member states of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (a left-wing bloc launched in 2004), notably Ecuador and Bolivia. On July 17, Ecuador’s government announced it was recalling its ambassador to Tel Aviv in protest against the Israeli military incursion into Palestinian territory. With this decision, the Andean country is now in line with Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, which suspended diplomatic ties with Israel in January 2009 and February 2010.
Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina have also issued communiqués that unequivocally ascribe the prime responsibility for the escalating violence to Israel, though regretting and condemning the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel. While the governments of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took an oddly long time to assume a stance — nine and 12 days, respectively, after the beginning of the Israeli offensive — Brazil is the only country explicitly to call on Israel to “put an end to the blockade of Gaza immediately.” On July 16, Antonio Patriota, Brazil’s ambassador to the United Nations, gave a strong speech on the living conditions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
All of these political gestures matter. But Latin American solidarity movements with Palestine ask for greater unity and, more to the point, “concrete actions.” Appearances to the contrary, the near consensus that characterized the flurry of recognitions of the Palestinian state by South American nations in 2010-2011 — only Colombia didn’t join in — seems more fragile today than three years ago. Paraguay, a country that recognized the state of Palestine, hasn’t yet said a word about the deadly Israeli ground incursion in Gaza. Peru’s communiqué evinced only a timid empathy for the Palestinians by suggesting a false symmetry between Israel and Hamas fighters. Colombia, a close Israeli ally, reiterated its support for Israel by “condemning in the strongest terms the acts of violence and terrorism against the Israeli territory that affect the lives and safety of the civilian population.” Yesterday, as a sign of protest against this position, several left-wing Colombian MPs took up the slogan of their Chilean colleagues (“End the Slaughter in Gaza. No More Occupation in Palestine”) during a congressional session.
Despite persistent rumors on the Internet, Chile has not suspended trade, nor frozen Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks, with Israel. While it is true that a feasibility study for the signing of an FTA with Israel was completed positively in 2010, no further steps were taken and the agreement is currently not under negotiation, anyway. Nevertheless, the Chile-Palestine Inter-Parliamentary Group and the senator Alejandro Navarro continue to demand suspension of commercial relations, as well as withdrawal of Chile’s ambassador to Tel Aviv and proactive steps at the UN Security Council, where Chile was elected a non-permanent member for 2014-2015. An Avaaz petition was launched by Brazilian-Palestinians calling upon “Latin American presidents and ministers of foreign affairs to withdraw their ambassadors to Israel.”
In response to such demands, Chile’s Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday that the country will make a donation of $150,000 and an unspecified amount of medicine to Palestinian victims in Gaza. If Latin American governments are serious about their support for the Palestinian people and don’t want to contribute to Israel’s endless impunity, they will have to take actions that are much more than symbolic condemnations.