In early October, Western governments were quick to condemn Hamas terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis. There were few mistakes and word parsing by the US, UK and Canada.
However, that was not the case in many Latin American countries. In fact, there was a mix of harsh condemnation of Hamas and those who consciously supported national liberation movements and adopted a pro-Palestinian position.
Tellingly, Colombia’s leftist government, Gustavo Petro, which recalled its ambassador to Israel in early November, initially issued a press release that “strongly condemns terrorism and attacks against the civilian population.”
However, the next day a second statement appeared without mentioning Hamas (as was the case in the first letter) and completely eliminated the word “terrorism.”
Populist Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a blunt statement that “unequivocally condemns the unacceptable attacks against the people of Israel… by Hamas and other Palestinian organizations in Gaza.” The press release goes on to say bluntly: “Any terrorist act constitutes a threat to international peace and security, requiring the full cooperation of States to prevent and punish it. “No cause justifies the use of terrorism.”
Similarly, the authoritarian and aggressive Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele squarely singled out Hamas for harsh treatment. “As a Salvadoran of Palestinian descent, I am sure that the best thing that could happen to the Palestinian people is for Hamas to disappear completely. “Those wild beasts do not represent the Palestinians.”
The current left-wing government of Argentina, the country with the largest Jewish diaspora in Latin America, also decided to issue a harsh press release of “strong condemnation” of the “brutal terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas from the Gaza Strip against the State of Israel.” .” Gabriel Boric’s neighboring government in Chile, which has a large Palestinian community, also strongly condemned the attacks on Israel and expressed “sympathy and solidarity with the Israeli people.”
Recently, Boric chose to withdraw the Chilean ambassador in Tel Aviv “in the face of the unacceptable violations of international humanitarian law committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip.”
Instead, leftist firebrand Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, without pointing the finger at Hamas or mentioning the word terrorism, “condemns the series of bombings and ground attacks carried out today in Israel starting from the Gaza Strip.” . He also called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and “maximum restraint” by both sides to avoid a deadly escalation of the conflict.
Significantly, both Bolivia and Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv after Israel’s 2009 military operations in the Gaza Strip (although a right-wing government in Bolivia reestablished diplomatic relations in 2020). The leftist Bolivian government today limited itself to expressing “deep concern” about the “violent events” that took place in the “Gaza Strip between Israel and Palestine.” But now it has taken the dramatic step of once again ending official relations with Israel.
Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, for his part, did not openly condemn the Hamas attacks and settled for simply calling for “genuine negotiations” between the two sides. But he did include the following statement on
Given long-standing differences over Palestinian statehood, human rights, and the occupied territories, Cuba and Israel do not have full diplomatic relations. That is why it was not entirely surprising that the Cuban government of Miguel Díaz-Canel referred to the current conflict as a “consequence of 75 years of permanent violation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and of Israel’s aggressive and expansionist policies.”
Why the different perspectives? you might ask.
It has a lot to do with the fact that Hamas is seen less as a terrorist organization and more as a Palestinian liberation movement. Other governments are simply relentless in their solidarity and support for Palestinian independence and self-determination.
Furthermore, some governments in Latin America and the Caribbean cannot overcome their anti-American attitudes and Washington’s strong support for Israel. There is also a view in some parts of the region that Israel has a long history of acting repressively against the long-suffering Palestinian people.
It is not surprising, then, that there are a multitude of opinions about Israel, Hamas and the recent terrible attacks against Israeli citizens. The most critical ones are clearly tinged with anti-imperialist, anti-American and anti-colonial sentiments.
The fact of the matter is that there are too many ideological, historical and personal differences for all Latin American government leaders to sing from the same anthem. And, of course, there are always the internal political constituencies within each of these countries that shape their respective positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Peter McKenna is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.