Latin America: reactions to attack on Gaza

Latin American governments and organizations generally condemned the assault on the Palestinian territory of Gaza by Israeli military forces. There were also a number of street protests, which the media reported were mostly small. The strongest condemnations came from leftist governments. Cuba's Communist government issued a statement on Dec. 27, at the beginning of the air campaign, calling the offensive an "act of genocide" and a "criminal military operation, the bloodiest one executed by Israel against the Palestinian people." It "takes place in the midst of an illegal blockade imposed by the Israeli government in the last 18 months against the Gaza Strip, directed at annihilating and subduing the Palestinian population—including children, women and the elderly—by hunger and disease." Cuba expressed its "unyielding solidarity with and support for this long-suffering and heroic people." (Declaración del Gobierno Revolucionario, Dec. 27; Prensa Latina, Dec. 28)

(Israel is the only country that consistently votes with the US each year when the United Nations General Assembly condemns the US economic embargo of Cuba; see Update, Nov. 2 for the 2008 vote.)

On Dec. 30 the Bolivian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the air strikes "crimes" that "represent a severe and massive violation of the International Humanitarian Law." The strikes "killed civilians under the excuse of responding to some militia attacks, and also they have as a military target civilian infrastructure like universities." (Xinhua, Dec. 30) On Dec. 27 Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez called the Israeli assault "criminal." (El Pais, Spain, Dec. 30)

Latin American countries with center-left governments seemed less inclined to place all the blame on the Israeli government. Israel says the assault is intended to stop rocket attacks by the right-wing Islamic group Hamas, which governs Gaza. Mercosur—a trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Venezuela in the process of admission—expressed its rejection of "the escalation of violence and intimidation occurring in the Gaza Strip" and "urged the parties to put an end to hostilities" and called for them to "return immediately to dialogue." However, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva used stronger terms on Dec. 30 to criticize the United Nations and the US for failing to pass a resolution to stop the air campaign. "What is proven is that the UN doesn't have the courage to make a decision and to make peace in this place," he said. "And it doesn't have the courage because the US has the power of the veto [in the UN Security Council], so things don't happen." The Israel military actions were "disproportionate," he said.

The governments of Chile, Nicaragua and Peru officially condemned the bombardments.

Dec. 29 brought out protesters throughout the region. Some 50 people, mostly Venezuelans of Arab descent, demonstrated in front of the Israeli embassy in Caracas, chanting in Arabic, spitting on a star of David and burning the Israeli and US flags. A little girl held up a drawing of bleeding children with the words: "No more massacre in Gaza." The protesters left Palestinian and Venezuelan flags hanging at the embassy door, along with a number of shoes—a reference to an Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US president George W. Bush at a Dec. 14 press conference.

In Argentina, organizations of people of Arabic origin, along with leftist parties and social movements, protested in front of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. "Israel out of Palestine," "Free Palestine" and "Peace for the Palestinians," they chanted, waving Palestinian flags and shoes. Brazilians of Arab descent protested near the Sao Paulo Art Museum; socialists protested in Chile; and the local Palestinian community protested in Colombia. (El Pais, Dec. 30; La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 31 from DPA, AFP, PL, Reuters; La Prensa, Panama, Dec. 29; Univision, Dec. 29 from AFP)

In Panama, some 200 people from social movements and unions protested in front of the Israeli embassy. Panama resident Khaled Salama, who is a member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), called Israel a "terrorist state"; he urged "the world to judge these terrorists as war criminals," and demanded that the Israeli and US governments pay for "all the damage they've done" in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. In Panama, he added, there are 50 religions, and Muslims and Jews live and work together without major problems. Genaro López, director of the National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights (SUNTRACS), said Israel acts as it does "because it has the support of the US" and "an important economic power that backs it." (El Nuevo Diario, Nicaragua, Dec. 30 from AFP)

After the Israeli military began its ground offensive on Jan. 3, Mexico's center-right government called for a ceasefire by both sides. Mexico is currently a member of the UN Security Council, and the government pledged to participate "actively and constructively" to end the military escalation. (LJ, Jan. 4) The government statement contrasted sharply with a Dec. 29 declaration by participants in the World Festival of Dignified Rage, a 10-day celebration by the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). "This crime [the Israeli assault] represents a dangerous increase in the permanent holocaust against the Palestinian people," they said, condemning the "complicit, hypocritical and unworthy silence of the world.... We declare our dignified rage against this genocide." (LJ, Dec. 31)

On Dec. 29 an unnamed Israeli official indicated that his government wasn't worried about world reactions to the assault. "[T]he tone of the criticism is moderate, tempered and balanced," he said, "at least in the countries that count." (El Pais, Dec. 30)</