Latin America protests attack on Gaza

In a Nov. 17 statement the leaders of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), a trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay (suspended), Uruguay and Venezuela, expressed their “strongest condemnation of the violence unleashed between Israel and Palestine” and their “concern with the disproportionate use of force” since Israel began a military offensive against Gaza on Nov. 14. Mercosur also expressed “its support to the request from the state of Palestine to obtain the status of [United Nations] observer member.”

The four active Mercosur members are among the 11 Latin American countries that have recognized Palestine as a state; the others are Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru. Mercosur signed a “free trade” agreement with the Palestinian National Authority in December 2011; it signed a similar trade agreement with Israel in 2007, a move opposed by many leftists, who feel cutting off trade with Mercosur would put pressure on the Israeli government. Israel’s annual exports to Mercosur are worth about $700 million; Brazil by itself is the third largest recipient of Israeli exports in the world. (MercoPress, Montevideo, Nov. 17;, Venezuela, Nov. 19; People’s Daily, China, Nov. 21)

(Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur after the legislature’s sudden impeachment of President Fernando Lugo on June 22 but remains a member.)

Some Latin American leaders were stronger than others in their condemnation of the Israeli operation, codenamed “Pillar of Defense,” which was suspended in a ceasefire agreement on Nov. 21. On Nov. 19 Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said “the first step” for resolving the conflict “should be the creation of a free and independent Palestinian state that can negotiate peace as an equal with the state of Israel.” Also on Nov. 19, El Salvador’s governing leftist party, the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN), condemned the offensive as a “new massacre…against the people of Palestine” and charged that Israel had provoked the conflict. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had characterized “Pillar of Defense” as “savage” a few days earlier, while the Cuban government repeated its “most firm support for the just cause of the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights, which include the creation of an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

“[W]e back the right of the Palestinian people to be able to have their own free, independent and autonomous state,” Chile’s rightwing president, Sebastián Piñera, said during a visit to Turkey on Nov. 19, but he stressed that Chile “also support[s] Israel’s right to count on secure borders in peace.” According to the Spanish wire service EFE, Chile has the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East.

Many groups in the region held protests against the Israeli offensive. About 30 Uruguayans demonstrated in Montevideo on Nov. 19 in front of the Israeli embassy, calling Israel a “genocidal state.” Dozens of members of the Salvadoran Palestinian Association and other organizations protested the same day in front of the Israeli embassy in El Salvador. (EFE, Nov. 19, via Diario de Yucatán, Mexico)

A Mexican group protested at the Angel of Independence in Mexico City on Nov. 20, and another demonstration was held in front of the Israeli embassy. Activists were planning a further show of support for the Palestinians in front of the United Nations (UN) office in Mexico City on Nov. 27, two days before Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is scheduled to ask the UN General Assembly for observer status for Palestine. (Adital, Brazil, Nov. 22) Hundreds of Colombians and resident Palestinians demonstrated at the Israeli embassy in Bogotá on Nov. 20; the protest tied up traffic in the city center for about two hours. A protest in Managua the next day by Nicaraguans, resident Palestinians and US citizen Nan McCurry targeted the US embassy. “I’m asking the government of my country to stop supporting Israel so that this war will end immediately,” McCurry said in a brief speech. (People’s Daily, Nov. 21, Nov. 21)

A number of Arab and Palestinian groups, with the support of Brazil’s Unified Workers’ Central (CUT), are holding a Free Palestine World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1. The goal is “to consolidate and strengthen the international solidarity movement for the rights of the Palestinians.” (Adital, Brazil, Nov. 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 25.