Invasion of Gaza Met With Protests Throughout Latin America

Since the Israeli military operations against Palestine commenced, protests have occurred throughout Latin America at various scales. Several Latin American governments have officially condemned Israeli actions or have called for a ceasefire. Venezuela‘s government expelled the entire Israeli envoy in protest.  

The colonization of Latin America cannot adequately be described and the impacts are unquantifiable.  Throughout the region, indigenous communities collapsed and millions were killed in a colonial project that was to serve economic interests of the Spanish.  As the Spanish empire eroded, so grew the influence and involvement of the United States.  Collectively, this resulted in 500 years of silenced voices for the poor and politically marginalized.  While there are certain complexities unique to the colonizing experience in Latin America, there is a commonality in the problems that have arisen in the years since decolonization throughout the Global South, including displaced persons, border disputes, and violence.

Despite these consequences of colonization, change is taking place.  Latin America for example is experiencing a political transformation.  Many governments have supported Cuba and commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of their revolution.  In Bolivia, Evo Morales was overwhelmingly elected in 2005 as the nation’s first indigenous president and won a resounding victory in a referendum on his presidency in 2008.  President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has been successful in advocating his Bolivarian Revolution through electoral and referendum campaigns.  President Lula da Silva of Brazil was reelected in 2006, leading the country on a steady path of development.  President Rafael Correa, elected in 2006, has led a political charge to reconstitute Ecuador, passing a constitution and refusing to pay off debts accrued through political and economic pressure placed upon the Ecuadorian government in the past.  These changes have been met with resistance, however they have also empowered many to continue speaking out against injustice in the region and beyond, including the current crisis in Gaza.

On December 27, 2008, the Israeli government launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip and on January 3, 2009, commenced a ground invasion.  These attacks were justified by Israel as attempts to reduce the influence Hamas, in the Gaza Strip.  Hamas was democratically elected in 2006, following US pressure for democracy in the Arab world.  This most recent cycle of violence, however, has killed well close to 700 Palestinians and 10 Israelis, 7 of whom are soldiers.  Over 3,000 Palestinians have been injured.  The number of casualties will inevitably grow and many speculate that many of the injured Palestinians will die due to the lack of available medical supplies in Gaza. 

Life in Gaza is unspeakably difficult, and with 1.5 million Palestinians living in a 139 square mile area, it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.  According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 51.8% of Palestinians are living in poverty.  Further, 70% of these families have been classified as being in deep poverty.  It is estimated that 42% of Gazans are unemployed, one of the highest rates in the world.  Since 2007, the checkpoints surrounding Gaza have largely been closed, limiting the importation of goods like fuel and building supplies, stagnating the local economy and making life in general difficult.  Exports out of Gaza have also been banned, further devastating the local economy.  

Since the military operations commenced, millions have taken to the streets around the world demanding an end to the disproportionately violent siege inflicted upon the Palestinian people.  Such protests have occurred throughout Latin America at various scales.  Several Latin American governments have officially condemned Israeli actions or have called for a ceasefire.  Venezuela‘s government expelled the entire Israeli envoy in protest.  Palestinian and Arab descendants living in Latin America, alongside indigenous groups and Latin Americans, have taken to the streets, protesting at Israeli embassies and government offices. 

State Responses

The Venezuelan government was the first to condemn the strikes in Gaza.  In an official news release, they expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian people and called on the international community to denounce the violent military campaign by the Israeli government.  They criticized the United States for their complicity in the violence and urged the United Nations to exercise their authority and apply the multiple resolutions regarding the Israeli occupation in order to bring peace and stability to the region.  On January 6, 2009, Chavez expelled the Israeli ambassador and members of his staff from Venezuela.

The government of Mexico expressed their concerns on December 28, 2008 calling on both the Palestinians and the Israelis to cease the violence.  They state, “The government of Mexico calls on both parties to respect international human rights, immediately cease military actions, and permit access to international organizations and humanitarian assistance.”

On December 29, 2008, the Cuban government issued a statement condemning the Israeli attacks, stating, “Cuba expresses its most energetic condemnation of this genocidal act on the part of the Israeli government, which is in violation of the most elemental principles of international law and the UN Charter.” 

Evo Morales called on the Israelis to stop the military action in Gaza on January 1st.  Morales stated, “Killing is not a solution for the new millennium, and this is why Israel should quit utilizing the tools of empire to humiliate the Palestinian people.”  Morales also argued that “the Government of the United States cannot keep using a state like Israel to overwhelm countries that are in the process of liberation.”

In Nicaragua, Palestinian Ambassador Walid Ibrahim Muaqqat thanked President Daniel Ortega on January 2, 2009 for his expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people.  President Ortega echoed the calls for the Israeli government to cease their “criminal actions” in the Gaza Strip.

The Peruvian government expressed concern on January 4, 2009 regarding the failures of the UN Security Council to act on this crisis.  The foreign minister of Peru, Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde, noted that the number of deceased and injured is to be lamented and expressed his support for a ceasefire before more are killed in the conflict.

Latin American governments continue exercising diplomatic pressure as the conflict continues.  Their positions, furthermore, echo the sentiment of the public demonstrations against the violence in the region and beyond.

Street Protests

In Bolivia, a small group of activists, identified as members of Comunidad Inti, gathered on December 28, 2008 in a La Paz to protest the military strikes by Israel while criticizing US complicity.  Miguel Canaviri, a spokesman for Comunidad Inti, stated, “Today, men, women, and children are living under attacks on human dignity, and therefore, from here, from La Paz, from the Plaza Israel, we ask of you to stop the massacre, that you learn to coexist in peace so that we can have a better world.”

Several events took place on December 29, 2008.  In Argentina, protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.  In Puerto Rico, people gathered outside the Federal Building in San Juan to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and condemn the air strikes.  In Caracas, Venezuela, approximately 200 people protested outside the Israeli embassy and some 30 people protested outside the Israeli embassy in both Mexico City and Colon, Costa Rica.

In Mexico, several expressed his solidarity with the Palestinian people during the Dignified Rage Festival (Festival de la Digna Rabia) on the December 30, 2008.  Participants in the events associated with the festival, which was to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising in the Chiapas, condemned the “horrible massacre perpetrated by the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip…” and further criticized the “silence, complicity, hypocrisy, and shamefulness of the world.” On January 2, 2009, Subcomandante Marcos spoke out criticizing the institutional violence of the Mexican government and simultaneously deplored the violence committed towards the Palestinian people by the Israeli government and the US support for the Israeli action.

Also on the December 30, 2009, members of the Palestinian community, organized groups, and university students gathered outside of the Israeli embassy in the Panamanian capital.  Led by the National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights (Frente Nacional por la Defensa de los Derechos Economicos y Sociales Frenadeso) they called for a ceasefire and for a halt to the economic blockade of Gaza.

In the capital of Brazil, nearly 100 protesters, mostly women and children, gathered on December 31st marching from the Explanada de los Ministerios, in the center of Brasilia, to the Israeli embassy, expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people and condemning the violence. 

In Colombia, approximately 200 descendants from the Palestinian community and sympathizers protested in Bogota on January 2, 2009, demanding peace for the Palestinians as they marched from the Bolivar Square to the Israeli embassy.  These protests coincided with a statement by the Colombian government condemning the Israeli airstrikes.

On January 4, 2009, hundreds gathered in front of the Palacio de la Moneda in Santiago de Chile to protest.  The rally, led by Mauricio Abu-Ghosh, the president of the Federation of Ethnic Palestinians in Chile, asked that Michelle Bachelet and her government review their relationship with Israel in light of the bombardment of Gaza.

Rallies, vigils, and protests continue to be held throughout the Americas and diplomatic action is being exercised.  This public response unfolding in the region appears to be new.  Juan Jose Lima, the director of Center for Studies for Justice and Participation (Centro de Estudios Sobre Justicia y Participacion; CEJIP) in La Paz, Bolivia, believes that the protests in the region can be attributed to two principle reasons: 1) the regional anti-American sentiment in the Americas and 2) sympathy with suffering Palestinians.  Lima, who holds a diploma in history la Universidad Mayor de San Andres in La Paz, informed me that similar conflicts overseas have not stirred such public outcry before. 

Lima‘s conclusions lead us to the common experiences of Latin America and the Middle East.  Both regions are rooted in a history of colonialism which is inextricably linked to the politics of today.  Unfortunately these politics have descended into poverty, suffering, and violence for too many people, including the Palestinians, and our own failures to understand history explains why the suffering persists.  The public outcry that has unfolded in Latin America, however, forces us to reconsider these Latin American and Palestinian experiences together.  One can only hope that the violence ceases indefinitely soon because too many have suffered for too long.