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Israel-Palestine war: Latin American solidarity with Palestine draws stark contrast to West

Several Latin American leaders have taken a public stance in the wake of the deadly attacks from both Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces
Palestinian community gathers outside UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago de Chile, on 10 October (Claudio Abarca Sandoval/NurPhoto)

The deadly attacks in Israel and the large-scale bombardment of Gaza over the course of the week have sparked a wide array of reactions and condemnations from global powers and major players on the international stage.

Israel has been bombing the densely populated Gaza Strip after Palestinian fighters, led by Hamas, launched a surprise attack on Israel beginning Saturday, killing 1,300 Israelis and taking at least 100 Israelis hostage. The bombardment of Gaza has killed at least 1,400 Palestinians, half of whom are women and children.

Countless western institutions and prominent heads of state have publicly condemned the violent attacks carried out by Palestinian groups and expressed their support for Israel. 

The strongest support for Israel came from the United States. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden gave a speech at the White House where he strongly denounced the violent actions carried out by Palestinian groups, which he described as “acts of sheer evil”, and pledged to back Israel.

“In this moment, we must be crystal clear: we stand with Israel,” Biden said.

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The reaction among heads of state from elsewhere across the globe has been more varied. In Latin America, where a wave of leftist governments have been sworn into office over recent years, leaders from across the region have made their positions known. 

The most vocal commentator among Latin American leaders has been Colombia’s leftist president, Gustavo Petro. The Colombian head of state has long been a public defender of the Palestinian cause, and took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to criticise Israel's response to the attacks in Israel. 

Petro has tweeted constantly on the topic, triggering a backlash from critics for his lack of diplomatic tact and sparking debates with Israeli diplomats in Colombia. 

In his foray of unfiltered tweets, Petro compared the situation in Gaza to the Auschwitz concentration camps, likened the Israeli military to Nazis, and widely shared images and videos of Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks over the course of the week. 

“For him, this is a matter of principle. It doesn't sound like he was saying these things from a geo-strategic standpoint, [as] he said some things that would be quite controversial. He was expressing his opinion in a very raw way,” Michael Paarlberg, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, told MEE. 

View from across the continent 

In Bolivia, former President Evo Morales – who is once again running for office – expressed his support for Palestine and broke with the leftist government's more diplomatic statement.

“The statement from the Bolivian Foreign Ministry does not reflect the feeling of solidarity of the Bolivian people towards Palestine. The Bolivian people will always condemn the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories,” Morales said on X.

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Paarlberg explained that besides “geostrategic reasons [and] reasons of domestic politics”, Latin American support for the Palestinian cause has historical roots. 

“There's also the lens of the Cold War, where the Israel-Palestine issue was an area of contestation between the US and the Soviet Union, and because Latin America was also an area of contestation, many countries there lined up on either side,” he said. 

In Chile, which is home to the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Arab world, support for the Palestinian cause has been historically quite strong, Paarlberg said. 

Nonetheless, President Gabriel Boric issued a diplomatic statement condemning “the brutal attacks, murders and kidnappings by Hamas”, but also added, “the indiscriminate attacks against civilians carried out by the Israeli army in Gaza and the decades-long illegal occupation of Palestinian territory in violation of international law.”

Israel Palestine
In photos taken on 9 October 2023, social organisations participate in demonstrations in support of the populations of Israel and Palestine (Reuters)

Boric’s fellow leftist in Brazil had a more muted response but featured Palestinians prominently. In a statement, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva condemned the attacks on Israel but also called on the international community to push for “a solution to the conflict that guarantees the existence of an economically viable Palestinian State, coexisting peacefully with Israel within safe borders for both sides”.

Venezuela issued a statement in which it expressed its “deep concern” for the escalating violence and stated the situation “is the result of the inability of the Palestinian people to find a space in international law to assert their historical rights”.

Palestinian ties

The public display of support across Latin America did not go unnoticed among the region’s Palestinian community.

“We’re very appreciative. Death cannot be justified. We do not want more deaths, neither of both Jews nor Palestinians,” Simaan Khoury, former head of the Palestinian Union of Latin America and president of the Palestinian Association of El Salvador, told MEE.  

“People are resisting, they are suffering, but this is the price of freedom.”

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, who is himself of Palestinian descent, issued a strong condemnation of the attack on Israel and described Hamas members as “savage beasts [who] do not represent Palestinians”, yet he remained silent on Israel’s actions.

Bukele, whose father converted to Islam and became an imam at a prominent mosque in the capital San Salvador, has often distanced himself from the Palestinian cause. 

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“He doesn't see any upside to being vocally pro-Palestinian. He’s been quite pro-Israel in the past, but El Salvador as a whole has been so for a long time,” Paarlberg explained. 

“Given that the US has been a very close partner, what the US thinks matters a lot in Salvadoran politics. Often, like with a lot of countries, the Israel-Palestine issue is a proxy for foreign relations with the US.”

Meanwhile, Argentina’s left-wing president, Alberto Fernandez, spoke to his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog on 7 October to “convey the solidarity of the people and government of Argentina,” he stated on X. The country has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, at around 180,000, and one of the biggest Jewish diasporas in the world.

The Argentinian vice-president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, did, however, call for a two-state solution. 

In Paraguay, the presidential palace was lit up in the colours of the Israeli flag in a show of solidarity, while marches and gatherings in solidarity with Israel have been seen across the region over the course of the week. 

Despite the range of reactions, regional representatives of Palestine urged Latin America to show greater support for their cause. 

“The position taken across Latin America is one that is in line with the situation, yet at a sociological level, [Latin America] should take a much more active role considering the sizable Arab communities here,” Alexander Montero, political advisor at the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Colombia, told MEE. 

“At a time when an autonomous position, one different to a Eurocentric or western one, could be taken, the region has not done so. It’s a shame as the moment could have been taken advantage of.”

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