How Have Latin America’s Political Leaders Responded to Israel’s Siege on Gaza?
|Written by Stephan Lefebvre|
|Monday, 21 July 2014 16:03|
On July 10th, just two days after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge (the largest attack on Gaza in several years) President Obama released a statement in which he “reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.” With a death toll now over 550, it is important to look beyond U.S. government sources for information and perspective. Foreign policy among the countries in Latin America conforms to the long-standing, overwhelming international consensus that opposes Israeli aggression and occupation, but it also reflects the region’s “second independence.” Over the last 15 years, most countries in Latin America have increased their ability to pursue a foreign policy agenda separate from the goals of the U.S. State Department. In the vast majority of cases, reactions to the latest hostilities are fundamentally at odds with the U.S. position, but they are also varied: many governments directly criticize Israel, using words like “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” to describe recent events; other official statements limit themselves to calling for a ceasefire and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Some of the strongest statements were issued by left-leaning governments in South America, including those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela. The government of Argentina issued a statement “strongly condemn[ing] that Israel -- defying calls by the Security Council, by the Secretary General and by the many voices of the international community – has decided to escalate the crisis by launching a ground offensive.” President Evo Morales of Bolivia announced that he had petitioned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) to consider a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.” (Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza.) The statement from Brazil reads in part:
The Brazilian Government vehemently condemns the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, with disproportionate use of force, which resulted in more than 230 Palestinians dead, many of them unarmed civilians and children. It equally condemns the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel.
The foreign ministry of Chile released a statement that “strongly condemns the Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip,” also saying that “The reprehensible kidnappings and deaths of three young Israelis and one young Palestinian cannot serve as an excuse to initiate terrorist actions nor to attack areas densely populated by civilians.” Chile has reportedly suspended trade talks with Israel and is considering withdrawal of its ambassador in Tel Aviv over Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip. The Government of Ecuador released a statement saying that it:
strongly condemns the disproportionate military operations by the Israeli army against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, which have left more than a hundred deaths [sic] and considerable damage to property and civil infrastructure, demands an immediate cessation of these aggressions against the Palestinian civilian population and called [sic] the State of Israel to exercise maximum restraint and act in accordance to international law and humanitarian law.
Uruguay issued a similar statement condemning the military attacks by Israel in the Gaza Strip, which “caused dozens of civilian deaths and injuries, including women and children, in a disproportionate response to the launch of rockets against the Israeli territory on the part of armed Palestinian groups.” The statement also condemns the “repeated [rocket] launchings that put the civilian population in central and southern Israel at risk.” On the whole, this was not positively received by the Israeli ambassador to Uruguay. Finally, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela issued a statement lamenting the murders of three young Israelis, saying it is a case that “demands a full investigation.” He also rejected the attacks by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, saying:
the Bolivarian Government of Venezuelan energetically condemns the unjust, disproportionate and illegal military response of the State of Israel against the historic Palestinian nation and urges its government to immediately end this aggression which goes against international law and against the most elemental sense of respect for life and human dignity.
Clearly the language used by each country varies, but it is interesting to note that Venezuela’s response falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of condemning the Israeli siege. The Venezuelan foreign ministry issued a separate statement on behalf of the ALBA counties which echoes the Venezuelan government’s statement and reaffirms the ALBA group’s “unconditional solidarity, support and influence for the people of Palestine before this new wave of violence.”
Outside South America, several other countries issued strong responses, including Cuba and El Salvador. Cuba’s foreign ministry condemned Israel for “us[ing] its military and technological superiority to execute a policy of collective punishment with a disproportionate use of force which causes civilian casualties and enormous material damage.” El Salvador issued a statement in which the government “strongly condemns and rejects Israel’s increased armed aggression against the Gaza Strip” which caused the “loss of human lives, hundreds of injuries and the flight of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, besides serious material damage.” Also, the statement explains that the U.N.’s legitimate self-defense clause “does not justify the use of disproportionate military force against another State, much less against its civilian population.”
As an historical aside, the United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and several of the countries that introduced the resolution to the General Assembly were from Latin America, including Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guayana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
Colombia stands out, not only in South America but in Latin America as a whole, for condemning the “acts of violence and terrorism” against Israel and its civilian population. They called on both Israel and Palestine to end the confrontations and return to the dialogue and negotiation. Colombia has not supported U.N. membership for Palestine, abstaining during the 2012 vote.
More measured statements were issued by the governments of Costa Rica, Honduras [PDF], Mexico, and Peru. These statements typically called for a ceasefire, a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and condemned both sides equally for the violence. Several countries have not issued official responses, including the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. Panama’s foreign minister did not release a dedicated statement on the recent events, but received the Israeli Ambassador for a meeting to strengthen the bilateral relationship during which time the Panamanian official expressed concern over the rise in violence in the Middle East and expressed support for a peaceful resolution.
These statements clearly show not only that the vast majority of Latin American countries are at odds with U.S. foreign policy, but also that these countries are more and more able to articulate opposing views that challenge U.S. State Department narratives. Back in 2010, CEPR examined the region’s response to Israel’s deadly raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and then as now we found that there was a “hemispheric isolation of the U.S. on critical foreign policy issues.” While the era of U.S. supported coups and interference in the region is not over, significant progress has been made to increase national sovereignty and independence in Latin America, and these are changes that reverberate not just throughout the hemisphere, but across the world.
 In this blog post, estimates for casualties and other statistics included in official statements are quoted as written in the original versions, not corrected for the latest information available. The latest numbers for the death toll indicate over 550 killed since July 8, 2014.