Latin America's revolutionary governments support Gaza against Zionism

By James Crafti

Bolivian President Evo Morales delivered a blow to Israel on January 16 by cutting off diplomatic ties with the Zionist state. Roberto Nelkenbaum, the Israeli consul to Bolivia, said he was “surprised and sad” that Bolivia had taken this action after the two countries shared “good diplomatic relations for more than 50 years”. Morales said he was seeking to have Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert charged with war crimes over the invasion of Gaza, although he didn’t have much faith in the UN Security Council, which he described as an “Insecurity Council”, to do anything to help the Palestinians.

Bolivia’s condemnation of Israel’s attacks on Gaza is a further strengthening of the “axis of good” that has formed in Latin America against US imperialism. Only days before Bolivia cut ties with Israel, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s revolutionary socialist government terminated its diplomatic relations with Israel. In 2006, the Chavez government expelled the Israeli ambassador and recalled its own from Tel Aviv in response to Israel’s war against Lebanon. Socialist Cuba, a longstanding opponent of Zionism, has not had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1973.

Middle East Online reported on January 12 that “Venezuelan flags and portraits of President Hugo Chavez have been flying high during protests in the West Bank against Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip … Chavez on Saturday accused Israel of being the ‘murder arm’ of the United States … Mohammed al-Lahham, an MP for the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said Chavez was ‘a symbol of the struggle for liberty, like Che Guevara. This distinguishes him from the world’s other presidents’. His opposition to Washington, Israel’s loyal ally, over the invasion of Iraq and to the Israeli offensive against Lebanon in 2006 have made Chavez a symbol for all peoples who ‘are resisting and fighting against occupation’, he said. Venezuelan flags and portraits of Chavez could be seen lofted by demonstrators in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron during rallies last week.

“Al-Jazeera television ran an interview with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro in which he slammed ‘the criminals who govern Israel’ and who have ‘carried out a holocaust against Palestinians for 60 years’.”

The mayor of Al-Masar, a village near Bethlehem told Middle East Online: “I would like to be able to give Chavez a Palestinian passport so he could become a Palestinian citizen. Then we would elect him and he would become our president.” This statement reflects both Palestinian support for Venezuela’s actions and dissatisfaction with the current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has collaborated with Israel in its war against Gaza.

Non-Aligned Movement

In addition to its own example of diplomatically isolating apartheid Israel, Cuba has also been organising against the Zionist state through the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which represents 118 countries. Abelardo Moreno, Cuba’s representative to the UN and current chairperson of the NAM, addressed the UN Security Council on November 7, saying: “NAM strongly condemns the escalation of the military aggression being carried out by Israel, the occupying power, in the Gaza Strip. NAM is gravely concerned by and condemns in particular the launching of the Israeli ground invasion in Gaza in flagrant defiance of the calls by the international community for a cessation of military activities and of the regional and international diplomatic efforts under way to resolve the current crisis.”

Cuba and Venezuela have also been strong in their provision of aid to Gaza. Venezuela committed at least 92.5 tonnes of aid to Gaza as immediate assistance. Cuba’s aid has also been noted, the Palestinian ambassador to Cuba, Mohammed Samhan, commenting: “International support of Palestine is growing, particularly in relation to humanitarian assistance. Cuba, which has historically offered its solidarity, has purchased medications for our people, despite the fact that the Caribbean nation is still recovering from the damage inflicted by three hurricanes.”

It is this internationalist solidarity that has truly set Cuba and, more recently, Venezuela apart from other countries. Venezuela’s relationship with Israel has been icy since 2005, when, due to pressure from Washington, Israel refused to conduct maintenance on Venezuela’s F-16 jet fighters, something it was contracted to do by the previous Venezuelan government. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006, Venezuela provided 20,000 tonnes of aid to Lebanon. Further, Venezuela stopped issuing tourist visas to Israelis.

Since then, Chavez has been an outspoken opponent of the Zionist state. He has frequently compared Israel to Colombia, describing the Colombian regime as having “turned into the Israel of Latin America”. Chavez has made the link between these two regimes, both heavily funded by the US government. Both Israel and Colombia’s right-wing government have frequently carried out military attacks on their neighbours under the pretext of combating “terrorism”.

After a February-March 2008 Israeli military assault on Gaza, which killed 90 people in four days, Chavez slammed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for saying that Israel was acting on its “legitimate right to defence”. Chavez pointed out that the same excuse was used by Colombia to invade Ecuadorian territory: “Colombia did not violate sovereignty; rather it acted on the principle of ‘legitimate defence’. This is the same as what Israel says. Israel and Colombia say this because this is the order of Washington. What is more serious is when the secretary-general of the United Nations says he ‘recognises the right of Israel to defend itself’ but only condemns as ‘disproportionate and excessive use of force’ that which has killed and injured so many civilians, including children. Isn’t this terrorism, Mr Ki-moon? You see how cynicism prevails in the world!”

Four decades of Cuban solidarity

In the early 1960s both Che Guevara and Fidel Castro visited Gaza (then ruled over by Egypt) and expressed their support for the Palestinians’ right to national self-determination. Cuba welcomed the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, making official contact with it in 1965.

Addressing the first congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1975, Castro declared that PLO leader “Yasser Arafat is a man we deeply love and admire and to whom we have always shown our solidarity”. Castro also declared that “the starting point of Cuba’s foreign policy ... is the subordination of Cuban positions to the needs of the struggle for socialism and for the national liberation of peoples.”

In 1975 Cuba was one of 25 countries that sponsored UN General Assembly resolution 3379 which condemned Zionism as a form of racism. Cuba was the only Latin American country to sponsor the resolution, which was passed 72-35 with 32 abstentions, but was overturned in 1991 with 111 in favour, 25 against and 13 abstentions. While many of the countries that supported the 1975 motion abandoned the Palestinian cause and changed their vote in 1991, Cuba remained committed to supporting the Palestinian national liberation struggle.

By 1978, Cuban military advisers were providing instruction to Palestinian resistance fighters at PLO camps in southern Lebanon. In the 1980s the Cuban embassy in Beirut served as the operational headquarters for the exiled Arafat and the PLO.

While Cuba has been limited in the material assistance it can provide to Palestine since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it continues to publicly support the Palestinian cause, having spoken out repeatedly against Zionist actions like the construction of the apartheid wall. At a 2005 international women’s conference in Venezuela, Liia Ishehai from the International Democratic Federation of Women of Palestine said: “Cuba is one of the few nations in the world that offers itself up in solidarity with Palestine. Every year, thousands of Palestinian students receive scholarships to study in Cuba … A better world is possible if we all work together in solidarity. One of the heart-warming gestures of solidarity that Palestine has received took place here in Venezuela, in the Teresa Careno Theatre, on April 13, when everyone rose and in one voice affirmed that Palestine will prevail.”