Diplomatic Tensions

The attacks carried out on October 7 near Gaza by the Palestinian organization Hamas and the ensuing events have generated mixed reactions from various countries of the world. Some Latin American countries have taken unprecedented steps to counter the escalating violence against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. These steps have ranged from cutting off diplomatic relations and recalling ambassadors, to providing humanitarian aid, proposing political initiatives, and communicating with both parties to the conflict and their partners.

The ongoing war between Hamas and Israel is likely to have tangible repercussions that will not be limited to the Middle East but may extend to several regions, including Latin America due to its geographical proximity to the US, the close ties of some Latin American governments with Iran, and the presence of Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, in some countries of the region. Furthermore, Jews and Arabs have a significant presence there, while citizens of Latin American countries are present in Gaza, whether as Hamas prisoners or those whom the governments of these countries are trying to extract through the Rafah border crossing.

Various Actions

Apart from the statements issued by Latin American governments—some of which condemn the Hamas attacks against Israel, while others criticize Israel’s "disproportionate" response to the attacks—several of these governments have taken concrete steps and actions with regard to the ongoing war in Gaza, most notably:

1. Cutting off diplomatic relations with Israel and recalling ambassadors: Bolivia is the first country in the world so far to decide to cut diplomatic ties with Israel, justifying its position as a "rejection and condemnation of the aggressive and disproportionate Israeli military attack on the Gaza Strip and its threat to international peace and security."

Following Colombia and Chile, Honduras is the latest Latin American country to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv for consultations in protest against "Israel’s violations of international human rights law in Gaza." The recent steps taken by these governments are not entirely new. In 2009, Bolivia severed diplomatic relations with Israel, before resuming them in 2020. In 2014, then-Chilean President Michelle Bachelet also recalled her country’s mission to Israel in opposition to Israel’s "Operation Protective Edge" in Gaza.

2. Introducing and supporting initiatives to stop the violence and protect civilians: Based on its non-permanent membership on the UN Security Council and its rotating presidency of the council for the month of October 2023, Brazil tried to pass a resolution calling for "a humanitarian pause to allow full, rapid, and safe access for humanitarian aid without hindrance." However, on October 18th, 2023, when the text was put to a vote, the US vetoed it.

At the same time, twenty Latin American and Caribbean countries (out of 120 countries in the UN) supported a General Assembly resolution calling for an immediate, permanent, and sustained humanitarian pause leading to a cessation of hostile operations in the Gaza Strip, while categorically rejecting any attempts to forcibly transport any Palestinian civilians. Some countries in the region sent tons of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, including Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and Venezuela.

3. Communicating with both parties to the conflict and international partners: Some Latin American heads of state have intensified their communications with both the Palestinian Authority and Israel. For example, during his call with his Israeli counterpart, Paraguayan President Santiago Peña expressed his solidarity with the "friendly country," saying: "We condemn and reject these inhumane acts that greatly pain us due to their effect on a nation with whom we have strong fraternal relations." It is worth noting that Paraguay has recognized Hamas as "an international terrorist organization" since August 2019.

Since last October 7th, Brazilian President Lula da Silva has had phone calls with the leaders of the UAE, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, France, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Qatar, and the EU, while Brazil’s foreign minister, Mauro Vieira, has communicated with the Israeli and Egyptian foreign ministers and also participated in the Cairo Peace Summit.

Likewise, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called the Palestinian president to affirm his solidarity and that of the Venezuelan people with the Palestinian people in their quest to restore their legitimate rights to freedom and independence. Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada received PLO Executive Committee member Ramzi Rabah, who visited the country two days after the Hamas attacks.

4. Intensifying efforts to guarantee the security of Latin American citizens in Gaza: The events in Gaza have killed at least nine Argentines, three Brazilians, three Peruvians, one Colombian, and one citizen each from Chile and Honduras, and about thirty Latin Americans are missing, including 21 Argentines. Thus, Latin American countries have increased their movements to free their citizens held captive by Hamas, as well as to evacuate those who are still in Gaza.

During his phone call with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, the Brazilian president requested the creation of humanitarian corridors to ensure the departure of Brazilian citizens in Gaza through the Rafah crossing. Brazil had already declared its intention to contact Hamas to release its citizens detained by the movement.

Argentina’s foreign minister, Santiago Cafiero, spoke by phone with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, to express his country’s interest in the "immediate and unconditional" release of Argentine citizens held hostage in Gaza. And Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez met with representatives of the Jewish community in Argentina to discuss the status of the country’s citizens held hostage by Hamas.

Potential Repercussions

The ongoing war in Gaza is likely to have significant repercussions for Latin America, as follows:

1. Diplomatic tensions with Israel: The growing condemnations and diplomatic positions taken by several Latin governments have caused diplomatic tensions with Tel Aviv. This was clearly evident in the position of Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who described the Israeli defense minister’s orders to impose a total siege on Gaza as "hate speech" and compared the situation in Gaza to a Nazi concentration camp. This caused Israel to announce the suspension of its security exports to Colombia.

Israel’s foreign minister said that President Petro’s position does not represent the Colombian government, and Israeli officials described his statements as "hostile" and "antisemitic." This prompted Petro to threaten to cut off diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, stressing his condemnation of Israel’s "genocide" against the Palestinian people. The Israeli foreign ministry called on Colombia and Chile to "explicitly condemn the Hamas terrorist organization" and "not to side with Venezuela and Iran in supporting Hamas terrorism."

Among the Latin American countries that condemned "Israel’s violation of international humanitarian law" following the attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp, Argentina has been the most favorable to Israel, which resulted in a condemnation of these criticisms by the Delegation of Argentine Israeli Associations (DAIA), the umbrella organization of the Argentine Jewish community. While Brazil’s president initially expressed his solidarity with Israel, he soon demanded an end to the "madness" of the Israeli prime minister’s desire to destroy the Gaza Strip. Indeed, the head of the ruling Labor Party recently accused Israel of "deliberately" delaying the evacuation of Brazilians from Gaza as a result of Brazil’s positions at the UN and President da Silva’s comments.

2. Deepening differences with the United States: The reactions of some Latin governments to the war in Gaza have revealed differences from the American position, in light of the Biden administration’s declaration of "unconditional" and "unprecedented" support for Israel. The differences are even clearer with regard to the position of the Colombian president, who said that "the American government bears great political responsibility" for what is happening. Colombia has long been the US’s closest ally in Latin America, but the US has condemned Petro’s comparison of the Israeli government and its policies to the Nazis.

Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the United States Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, said: "We ask you to condemn Hamas, the organization designated as terrorist, for its brutal killing of Israeli men, women, and children." Some Republican members of the US Congress, such as Marco Rubio, Maria Elvira Salazar, and Michael McCaul, sharply critiqued the Colombian president, stressing that his comments "inflame antisemitism and threaten the safety of the Jewish community in Colombia," and that "President Petro’s continued anti-democratic behavior and hostility with the truth threaten our historic bilateral relationship."

After his talks with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the first summit of the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, held in Washington on November 3rd and 4th, Petro told reporters: "I told Biden that he cannot continue to allow the massacre." Likewise, President Gabriel Boric of Chile, which hosts the largest Palestinian community in the region, said at a news conference following his talks with Biden: "We do not accept the choice between one side or the other. We choose humanity. These Hamas attacks are without justification, they deserve global condemnation, but the response by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government also deserves our clearest condemnation." Boric added that "[t]he right of a state to defend itself has limits, and those limits imply respecting the lives of innocent civilians, especially children, and respecting civil humanitarian law."

3. Worsening political polarization between Latin American governments: Positions on the war in Gaza reveal the depth of the political and ideological divisions among Latin American countries with regard to foreign policy issues, as well as the difficulty of adopting a coherent position toward successive international crises. Leftist governments—especially in Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Chile, and Bolivia—were harsher in their criticisms of Israel’s practices against Palestinian citizens. Recently, Mexico’s left-wing government, which took a neutral stance at the beginning of the conflict, echoed criticisms heard throughout Latin America, saying that Israel’s attacks "may amount to war crimes."

On the other hand, right-wing governments have adopted pro-Israeli positions. The governments in Uruguay, Paraguay, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic issued statements ranging from condemnation of "the heinous and deplorable terrorist attacks launched by Hamas against Israel," as in the case of Costa Rica, and declarations of "solidarity with Israel and its government in these difficult times," as issued by Guatemala’s foreign ministry.

4. Growing domestic divisions: There are divisions among Latin American political forces with regard to both sides of the conflict in the Middle East. While the governments of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua declared their solidarity with the Palestinian cause and condemned the violence against civilians in Gaza, opposition leaders in both countries expressed their solidarity with Israel and condemned the "terrorist attacks."

These differences of opinion are not limited to governments and their opposition but also affect left-wing leaders themselves. For example, in Bolivia, despite current President Luis Arce’s criticism of the violence and his call for peace, former President Evo Morales adopted a harsher position, calling for Israel to be classified as a "terrorist state," amid the fierce political competition between the two men. The diverging positions on the Hamas-Israel conflict were also present during the Argentine presidential campaign: while all the candidates expressed their solidarity with Tel Aviv, the Workers’ Left Front presidential candidate, Myriam Bregman, refused to condemn the Hamas attacks. These divisions translated more clearly in light of the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine demonstrations seen in Latin American countries.

5. Mounting security threats: The war in Gaza could threaten security and stability in some Latin American countries, especially those with a large number of Jewish inhabitants. For example, authorities in Argentina—the only country in Latin America that suffered attacks targeting Jewish institutions, in 1992 and 1994—announced stronger security measures around Jewish citizens and entities, and the Israeli and US embassies in the capital city of Buenos Aires received bomb threats.

These concerns increase with the observation of a noticeable increase in cases of "antisemitism" in Brazil and Argentina in particular. The targeting of Jews and their religious institutions is increasing significantly in Argentina, which is home to the largest Jewish population in Latin America, ranging from 200,000 to 250,000.

By contrast, the Islamic Center of the Argentine Republic (CIRA) published a public letter on October 27th, saying that it was "surprised that religious institutions are promoting Islamophobia through their publications in various media."

Based on the foregoing, it can be said that diplomatic relations between Israel and Latin American countries will see further deterioration against the backdrop of the ongoing Israeli aggression against civilians in Gaza. This will be followed by further condemnations and positions critical of Tel Aviv, which may increase Israel’s diplomatic isolation in the region. The war in Gaza is expected to cause greater divisions within and among Latin American countries, possibly raising tensions with the US, which may weaken ties between the two sides.