The Arab region and Latin America have drawn much closer in recent years, in part because of the shared desire to build a multipolar international order that is more just, more heedful of the welfare of the global South, and more conducive to their aspirations to becoming less dependent on the wealthy North.
Latin American voices of support for the Palestinian cause are an indication of this closer relationship. They have been loud and clear, in the wake of the recent Al-Aqsa Flood Operation, in expressing solidarity with the Palestinian right to self-defence and opposition to the Israeli aggression against the people of Gaza.
In a powerful statement on 15 October, the Columbian President, Gustavo Petro, likened the Israeli siege of Gaza to the Nazi persecution of Jews. “Democratic peoples cannot allow Nazism to re-establish itself in international politics,” he said on his X (formerly Twitter) account. Moreover, after an acrimonious exchange with the Israeli ambassador to Columbia, he asked the ambassador to leave the country and threatened to suspend relations with Israel. Columbia has also sent humanitarian aid to Gaza to be delivered via Egypt.
Bogotá has close military-security relations with Tel Aviv, long one of Columbia’s main defence suppliers, which has suspended arms deliveries following Petro’s remarks. This has not prevented Petro from speaking his mind during an extraordinary session of the General Assembly: “At last, the EU has reminded Israel of international law. Systematic attacks against civilians are prohibited. Genocide is also prohibited. Healthcare and hospital workers must be protected.”
Venezuela stressed the need for Israel to restore Palestinian rights as a prerequisite for achieving peace in the Middle East. A statement by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said that Israel must implement UN Security Council Resolution 2334, halting settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. It underscored the illegality of the settlements Israel has constructed in Palestinian territories since 1967. Venezuela has also resisted demands by Israel and its Western backers to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
Official declarations of solidarity from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Belize explained that they understood the causes that drove the Palestinians to pursue the course of resistance in their struggle for freedom and territorial liberation. The Bolivian Foreign Ministry expressed its “deep concern” over the violence in Gaza and harshly criticised Israeli military actions.
Some Latin American countries were less pro-Palestinian, but they did not lean too far in the other direction. Brazilian President Lula da Silva, on his X account on 7 October, condemned Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood Operation, writing, “I was shocked by the terrorist attacks carried out today against civilians in Israel, which caused numerous victims. In expressing my condolences to the families of the victims, I reaffirm my rejection of terrorism in any of its forms.”
At the same time, he called on the international community “to work to immediately resume negotiations that lead to a solution to the conflict that guarantees the existence of an economically viable Palestinian state, coexisting peacefully with Israel within safe borders for both sides.”
Brazil sponsored a draft UN Security Council resolution urging all parties to fully comply with their obligations under international law and calling for “humanitarian pauses to allow full, safe and unhindered access” for humanitarian relief and its providers. The draft text “unequivocally rejected and condemned the terrorist attacks by Hamas that took place in Israel starting on 7 October.”
It stressed that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can only be resolved by peaceful means and warned against the risk that the conflict could spill over into the region. Although the resolution was vetoed by the US, it was supported by 12 UN Security Council members, including two permanent members (China and France). Two other permanent members (the UK and Russia) abstained from voting.
At the grassroots level, in Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and other major Latin American cities, protesters rallied in large demonstrations of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Civil society organisations also voiced their support. Many Latin American labour unions have condemned the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and denounced the siege as a manifestation of Israeli apartheid. The Argentinian Committee of Solidarity with the Palestinian people appealed to the international community to come to the aid of the Palestinians in the face of the reprehensible assault on Gaza, a position echoed by prominent left-wing organisations and the Federation of Palestinian-Argentinian Entities.
On 20 October, over a thousand protesters rallied in Montenegro, Uruguay, shouting “Stop the guns! Stop the genocide!” They also called for the safe delivery of humanitarian relief and UN protection for civilians in Gaza.
While Latin American stances in support of Palestine and opposed to Israeli violence may not fundamentally or directly affect the conflict in Gaza, this does not diminish their significance. Many of these countries are very influential in the global South and they can be instrumental in rallying support for Palestine and against Israeli crimes among countries that oppose the US’ monopolar hegemony and see Washington’s one-sided support for Israel as one of its manifestations.
The Latin American positions in the wake of the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation reflect a significant failure in Israeli foreign policy. Clearly, Israeli influence has lost ground in Latin America, with more space for harsher criticism of Israel. If Israeli foreign policy architects were already bothered by the decline in the warmth of their country’s relations with some Latin American countries, the official and grassroots outpourings of arduous support for the Palestinian cause in recent weeks have been a source of additional concern. This is even more the case now that pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli sentiments have gained ground beyond the left-leaning countries traditionally espousing positions opposed to Western neo-imperialism and Israeli settler-colonialism.
Undoubtedly, US foreign policy towards Latin America has fed some of the shift of opinion on the question of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This would certainly apply to Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. But stronger Latin American support for the Palestinian cause is also informed by closer relations between Latin American and Arab regional powers.
Given the growing influence of some Latin American powers, not just in the global South but in the UN General Assembly and Security Council, they will play an important role in raising international awareness of the injustices perpetrated by the Israeli occupation and the grievances of the Palestinian people. Already Latin American countries have a record of voting in favour of UN resolutions in support of the Palestinian cause. The recent resolution sponsored by Brazil, even though it could not survive the US veto, demonstrated the ability to rally international support behind a Latin American consensus.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 26 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly