From Chile to Honduras, Latin American governments are recalling ambassadors, severing diplomatic relations, and openly condemning Israel — a country with a history of propping up dictatorships across the region — for its crimes against humanity in Gaza.

Chileans protest outside the Israeli embassy in Santiago on May 19, 2023. (Pablo Vera / AFP via Getty Images)

As the United States and its European allies continue to pledge unconditional support for Israel’s unconscionable campaign of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing in Gaza, the Latin American left has become a beacon of moral and diplomatic leadership in the ongoing crisis.

From Brazil to Honduras, recently elected progressive administrations in South and Central America are mobilizing in defense of Palestinian lives. Their courage and clarity are a source of hope in an otherwise bleak geopolitical landscape.

On October 18, as Israel denied responsibility for bombing Gaza’s al-Ahli Hospital, Brazil put forward a conservative resolution in the United Nations Security Council calling for “humanitarian pauses” in the assault. According to the Brazilian foreign ministry, the draft balanced forceful condemnations of Hamas’s attack on civilians with calls for Israeli restraint, “reflected the ethical necessity to provide civilians in Gaza with electricity, water, fuel, food and medical supplies, [and] the necessity to be protected from forced relocation when the prevailing conditions on the ground do not ensure a safe and secure displacement.” The United States vetoed the resolution. “Sadly, very sadly,” the ministry responded, “silence and inaction prevailed.”

The defeated United Nations resolution was moderate, balancing forceful condemnations of Hamas’s attacks on civilians with calls for Israeli restraint. But on October 25, Brazilian president Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva was blunt. “What Is happening is not a war, it is a genocide,” he stated, reiterating calls for a cease-fire.

Israel appeared to retaliate against Brazil’s position by repeatedly blocking the evacuation of thirty-four Brazilians from Gaza through the Rafah border crossing to Egypt. On November 8, the Israeli ambassador further rebuked the Lula administration in a visit to Brazil’s congress, where he was received by far-right politicians including former president Jair Bolsonaro in a private meeting.

As multilateral efforts failed, Latin American governments turned to individual diplomatic action. On October 31, the Bolivian government of President Luis Arce of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party severed diplomatic relations with Israel, citing “crimes against humanity against the Palestinian people.” Israel had already been without a permanent ambassador in the country since 2009, when MAS president Evo Morales broke ties in response to the Israeli offensive in Gaza known as “Operation Cast Lead” that killed over a thousand Palestinians. Relations were restored in 2020 under the far-right coup government of Janine Áñez.

“Bolivia demands an end to the attacks in the Gaza Strip, which have at this point provoked thousands of civilian fatalities and the forcible displacement of Palestinians; as well as an end to the blockade that impedes access to food, water, and other essential goods, violating international law and international humanitarian law on the treatment of civilians in armed conflicts,” interim foreign minister María Nela Prada told the press. Prada also announced a shipment of seventy-three tons of medical and food aid to Gaza.

That evening, Chilean president Gabriel Boric recalled his ambassador to Israel. Chile, which hosts the largest Palestinian diaspora outside of the Middle East, had already announced plans to open an embassy in the occupied territories in December 2022. “Chile energetically condemns and observes with great concern that these military operations — which at this point act as collective punishment of the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza — do not respect fundamental norms of International Law,” the Foreign Ministry declared, reiterating calls for a cease-fire.

Minutes later, Colombia also recalled its ambassador. President Gustavo Petro, a former leftist guerilla who has made peace negotiations with Colombian armed groups the centerpiece of his presidency, has been an early and outspoken critic of Israel and voice for peace, calling for dialogue and Palestinian statehood. Already, on October 16, Israel responded to Petro’s forceful condemnations of the bombardment of Gaza by suspending military exports to Colombia, once a key trade partner.

The diplomatic initiative from South America sparked a trend, with the governments of Jordan and Bahrain soon following suit and recalling their ambassadors in the first days of November. On November 3, the Honduran government of President Xiomara Castro did the same, citing the “serious humanitarian situation that the civilian population in the Gaza strip are enduring.”

Since then, the governments of South Africa, Turkey, and Chad have also recalled their top diplomats. On November 9, Petro went further, announcing Colombia would support Algeria’s claim against Netanyahu in the International Criminal Court and file charges for war crimes in Gaza.

Other progressive governments in the region have taken more moderate measures. On November 7, the first shipment of humanitarian aid arrived in Egypt from Argentina, which counts twenty-one nationals among Hamas’s hostages. Hamas also reportedly holds two hostages from Mexico, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has distanced himself from his southern colleagues by insisting on neutrality and limiting his remarks to calls for a cease-fire, despite recurring mass marches demanding sanctions and a diplomatic break.

The Latin American left has a long history of solidarity with Palestine. Revolutionary Cuba broke ties with Israel in 1973, and national liberation movements like Nicaragua’s Sandinistas forged relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a fact that was used by the Reagan administration to level fantastical claims of transnational terrorist conspiracy during the US-backed counterrevolutionary wars in Central America in the 1980s.

But while the US right continues to whip up imaginative fictions of Palestinian militants infiltrating the southern border with aid from devious Latin American agents, the bloody footprint of Israeli policy in the region is all too real. During the Cold War, the country was a critical ally to the Latin American dictatorships, providing arms, training, and funds for the counterinsurgency campaigns that left tens of thousands disappeared and hundreds of thousands dead across the hemisphere.

“Often seen as merely a proxy for U.S. security interests in the region, Israel was there to step in with diplomatic and military backing when repressive regimes became too extreme for the United States to support,” writes Gabe Levine-Drizin in NACLA. As Levine-Drizin recounts, Israel became the largest weapons distributor to Chile after a US congressional prohibition on selling weapons to the Pinochet dictatorship in 1976 and aided Washington in circumventing a congressional ban on supporting the Contras in Nicaragua — including by arming them with weapons confiscated from the PLO in Lebanon. Israel pumped over $1 billion in arms to the junta in Argentina between 1978 and 1983, while providing the blueprint for the US-backed genocidal scorched earth campaign against Indigenous Guatemalans in the same period.

As the Cold War wound down, private Israeli security companies and contractors reaped profits training the Colombian paramilitary groups that proliferated under the United States’ so-called war on drugs. More recently, the Israeli government has continued to support reactionary regimes in the region, peddling the invasive Pegasus spyware that governments like that of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador have used to target journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition activists.

Today, Latin America’s governing left has helped to lead growing global dissent to Israel’s US-backed impunity. As the death toll rises in Gaza, the intransigence of the US and its allies is rendered everyday more repugnant. The example from Latin America’s progressives provides a welcome, albeit modest, contrast that, in a just world, would be the standard policy response to atrocities anywhere, and reminds us that another world is possible.

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