There’s a round of applause as Cuban diplomat Jorge Luis Garcia tells the audience that last year Fidel Castro signed a manifesto for international support for Palestine which demanded Israel withdraw from East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. Another wave of clapping follows the announcement by Ecuadorian Culture and Heritage Minister Dr. Guillaume Long that last year President Rafael Correa condemned “what we called an Israeli genocide in Gaza,” recalled their ambassador and opened an embassy in Ramallah.
Garcia and Long are speaking to members of the audience and delegates gathered at MEMO’s conference Palestine and Latin America in the 21st Century: Building solidarity for national rights, held in London. Inspired by the diplomatic and popular support Latin America has given the Gaza Strip during various Israeli bombardments, the conference brings together politicians, ambassadors, activists, academics, journalists and more to share their experiences and strengthen the relationship between Palestine and Latin America.
“Latin America and the Caribbean are in many ways so comfortably detached from the situation that emotion or narrow strategic national interests do not dampen our reasoning,” says keynote speaker Senator Peter David, an advisor to the government of Grenada on Latin America, on why this relationship is so important. “Latin America and the Caribbean must continue to try to bridge divides and to speak objectively on the human rights of the Palestinian people. History will judge us, fate will curse us if we play politics with the issue.”
Bolivian Ambassador HE Roberto Calzadilla told the audience that President Morales broke diplomatic relations with Israel on 13 January 2009, despite having a good relationship with Israel in the past. Calzadilla says Bolivia is planning to establish their embassy in Palestinian territory and that they advocate a peaceful, not a military solution. Later, Dr. Guillaume Long comments that Bolivia is one of the “most radical” countries opposing the Israeli genocide.
Cuba was opposed to the partition of Palestine “from the beginning” says Garcia and Castro has expressed support for the Palestinian cause many times. After the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza Cuba sent 6,000 tonnes of medical supplies to people on the strip.
We are in support of the Palestinian cause because “it is an anti-colonial one,” affirms Garcia. “My people have been subject for more than 55 years to a genocidal blockade by the government of the United States.”
Garcia quotes Cuban poet, writer and national hero José Martí: “One just principle from the depths of a cave is more powerful than an army.”
Dr. Long says that for many years Cuba led the way for the Latin American left’s position on Palestine. Left wing, Latin American solidarity with Palestine is nothing new, he says. What is new is that the left is in power.
The rise of this “new left” in Latin America was a backlash against neoliberal policies of inequality and impoverishment.
Pedro Charbel, Latin America Coordinator of the Palestine Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement National Committee (BNC) says that there is potential in Latin America, but also contradictions. In 2014 Brazil called the Israeli war on Gaza a “massacre”, but at the same time Brazil was the fifth biggest Israeli weapons supplier.
According to Chief of Staff for Unite Andrew Murray, Middle East Monitor’s conference is an “embryo” or an example of the sort of global movement we need to challenge the power of the United States. “In the heart of the empire, part of the empire that gave away Palestine, we now have a strong anti-imperialist movement uniting.”
Former Director General of Al Jazeera Media Network Wadah Khanfar said a joint struggle for achievement is necessary: “there is nothing called a local Palestinian struggle; instead there is an international issue and struggle.”