Latin America: Gaza attack draws strong protests

An Israeli military offensive on the Palestinian territory of Gaza starting on July 8 has brought widespread condemnation from governments and activists in Latin America. The response to the current military action, which is codenamed "Operation Protective Edge," follows a pattern set during a similar December 2008-January 2009 Israeli offensive in Gaza, "Operation Cast Lead," when leftist groups and people of Arab descent mounted protests and leftist and center-left governments issued statements sharply criticizing the Israeli government.

In Argentina, dozens of people demonstrated on July 25 at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires to demand that the left-leaning government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner break off relations with Israel to repudiate "the brutal and criminal attack against the Palestinian people." The protest was organized by the Argentine Committee of Solidarity With the Palestinian People and various left parties. While the government hasn't broken relations with Israel, at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council Argentine representative Maria Cristina Perceval accused Israel of "indiscriminate abuse of militarism" and "disproportionate use of force." (Terra Mexico, July 25; Fox News Latino, July 23)

Some 5,000 Chileans marched to the Israeli embassy in Santiago on July 19 to protest the military operation. Some demonstrators glued pictures of children who have died in the attacks to the walls of the building; the marchers then proceeded to the US embassy to protest US support for the Israeli operation. The day before, on July 18, representatives of the Mapuche indigenous group joined some 200 protesters in Temuco, the capital of the southern region of Araucanía, in a march calling for "an end to the massacre of the Palestinian people." The protest was organized by the Arab Union for Palestine in Temuco and included Romina Tuma, the regional housing secretary, who charged that the Israelis are committing genocide; President Michelle Bachelet supports the Palestinian people, Tuma added. Bachelet's center-left government has in fact suspended free trade agreement negotiations with Israel to protest the Israeli operation, and the Foreign Ministry has announced plans for aid for Palestinian victims in Gaza, according to the Santiago Times. Chile has a population of about 300,0000 people of Middle Eastern and Arab ancestry. (AFP 7/21/14 via Times of Israel; Radio Bío Bío, Chile, July 18; Mapu Express, July 18; Fox News Latino, July 23, some from AP)

Uruguay also condemned Israel's military attacks. A government statement said the operation in Gaza "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 Palestinian organization Hamas came in for criticism as well, because of its "repeated [rocket] launchings that put the civilian population in central and southern Israel at risk." (The Americas Blog, July 21)

Late on July 24 Brazil's center-left government announced its condemnation of the "disproportionate use of force by Israel in the Gaza Strip, from which large numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children, resulted." Foreign Ministry officials said that they had recalled the Brazilian ambassador to Israel for consultations, and that Brazil had voted in favor of a United Nations Human Rights Council (OHCHR) decision to send a team to investigate accusations of war crimes in the region. Israeli officials appeared to be infuriated by the snub from a country which has bought and leased billions of dollars' worth of weapons and fighter planes from Israel in the last 15 years. "Such steps do not contribute to promote calm and stability in the region," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor. "Rather, they provide tailwind to terrorism, and naturally affect Brazil's capacity to wield influence." He called Brazil "a diplomatic dwarf" and sneered at the Brazilian soccer team for losing a World Cup match to Germany 7-1 on July 8. (News Latino, July 23, some from AP; Wall Street Journal online, July 24; Haaretz, Israel, July 25; Washington Post, July 25)

Bolivian president Evo Morales has petitioned the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to consider opening a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for "crimes against humanity" and "genocide." Morales' center-left government restricted diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 because of the earlier operation against Gaza. (The Americas Blog, July 21)

Hundreds of Peruvians, many of them of Palestinian descent, protested at the Israeli embassy in Lima on July 25, calling for their own government to recall its ambassador to Israel. "Countries that don't withdraw their ambassadors are becoming somewhat complicit in this massacre," one of the protesters told the Canal N television channel. A week earlier, the government had expressed its great concern about the violence, condemning both the Israeli attack and the launching of rockets against Israel by Hamas. (Terra, July 25, from EFE)

Ecuadoran foreign minister Ricardo Patiño announced on July 17 that the center-left government of President Rafael Correa was recalling its ambassador to Israel for consultations "because of violence unleashed and deaths produced in the Gaza Strip." "We condemn the Israeli military incursion in Palestinian territory; we demand an end to operations and indiscriminate attacks on a civilian population," Patiño said. (El Universo, Quito, July 17, from AFP) In related news, a July 12-16 meeting in Quito of the Women's Collective of the South American section of the international small-scale farmers' organization Vía Campesina denounced the Israeli operation as a "genocidal invasion" and demanded "respect for the principle of sovereignty and the right of Palestinian campesinas and campesinos to live, produce and remain in their land and territory." The collective accused Israel of "colonial practices." (Vía Campesina, July 22)

In Venezuela hundreds of protesters, including legislative deputies, demonstrated in Caracas on July 14 against the Israeli operation. The leftist government of then-president Hugo Chávez Frías broke off ties with Israel in 2009 to protest Operation Cast Lead. The government of current president Nicolás Maduro released a statement on July 19 charging that the latest attacks "initiated a higher phase of [Israel's] policy of genocide and extermination with the ground invasion of Palestinian territory, killing innocent men, women, girls and boys." The government "also rejects the cynical campaigns trying to condemn both parties equally, when it is clear you cannot morally compare occupied and massacred Palestine with the occupying state, Israel, which also possesses military superiority and acts on the margins of international law." (HispanTV, Iran, July 14; Chicago Tribune, July 19, from Reuters)

In Nicaragua hundreds of people marched to the UN office in Managua on July 14 to demand an end to the Israeli offensive, chanting: "No to genocide in Gaza and all of Palestine," "Solidarity between the peoples" and "Long live free Palestine." The marchers included the Palestinian ambassador to Nicaragua, Mohamed L. Saadat, who called for a "Palestine free of violence." Along with Guatemala, Haiti, and Paraguay, Nicaragua hadn't made an official statement on the conflict as of July 21. (Terra, July 14, from EFE; The Americas Blog, July 21)

About 50 students and other activists took to the streets in El Salvador on July 14 to protest the Israeli offensive. "Palestine is a free state, stop Israel's terrorism" and "I'm no friend of Israel" were among the slogans the protesters chanted outside the Israeli embassy. "We want to show our indignation over the suffering of the Palestinian people, and so we demand that Israel end this genocide in the Gaza Strip," Amalia Pineda, a representative of the Palestine Solidarity Network, told journalists. The center-left government of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has condemned what it called "Israel's increased armed aggression against the Gaza Strip," citing the "loss of human lives, hundreds of injuries and the flight of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, besides serious material damage." The UN's legitimate self-defense clause "does not justify the use of disproportionate military force against another state, much less against its civilian population," the government said. (Noticias, July 14; The Americas Blog, July 21)

In Mexico, indigenous Mayans who have converted to Islam held their first protest ever in the southeastern state of Chiapas. About 60 of the area's 600 or 700 Tzotzil Muslims marched in San Cristóbal de las Casas on July 24 to demand that "the genocide end." "We are few but we can't be silent before the massacre against the people of Palestine," Hibrahim Checheb, a representative of the Al-Kauz mosque, told a reporter. The group of Tzotziles, mostly from the nearby municipality of San Juan Chamula, converted about 18 years ago. (La Jornada, July 24) Activists in Mexico City held a protest on July 11 outside the Foreign Relations Secretariat. About 300 people participated in the action, whose sponsors included the Solidarity With Palestine Coordinating Committee (Corsopal). The organizers expelled five members of a group called "Black Eagles" from the protest; they were carrying signs with anti-Semitic slogans. (Milenio, Mexico, July 11)

Cuba's Foreign Ministry charged Israel with "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." The country's Communist government broke off diplomatic ties with Israel in 1973 and has provided Palestinian groups with financial and diplomatic support over the years. (The Americas Blog, July 21; Fox News Latino, July 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 27.

Bolivia declares Israel a terrorist state

Bolivia on July 30 renounced a visa exemption agreement with Israel in protest over its offensive in Gaza, with President Evo Morales saying the measure amounted to declaring Israel a "terrorist state." (AFP)

We'd be able to take this a lot more seriously if Evo were not simultaneously cozying up to Bashar Assad.