Editorial Comment: The only countries that have demonstrated integrity in the face of genocide of the Palestinian people are Bolivia, Belize, Cuba and Venezuela. Yet none of these countries have taken steps to invoke the Genocide Convention to protect the people. Neither has a single nation moved to invoke the Apartheid Convention. How is one to explain this morally reprehensible inaction? And worse, the plethora of so-called “revolutionary” and “progressive governments” in the region that maintain recognition of and relations with Israel.
- There is no hope for the world to be found in any government, institution or movement that can normalize ties with or fail to stop a genocidal oppressor.
- There can be no faith in leaders that place interests above moral principles.
- There is no salvation to be found standing with those too cowardly to act in the face of murderous criminality.
In recent weeks, four Latin American countries pulled their ambassadors from Israel over the country’s actions in its war with Hamas in Gaza. Worldwide, that’s just under half the countries that have taken the step of withdrawing their ambassadors from Israel.
But reactions have not been uniform across the region, with responses to Hamas’ October 7 attacks ranging from complete condemnation to neutrality. Latin America’s actions toward the Israel-Hamas war are informed by decades of engagement with both Israel and Palestine. In this explainer, learn how Latin American countries have navigated the conflict in the past, what trade relations looks like, and how diasporas influence leaders’ choices.
While Chile, Colombia, and Honduras just withdrew diplomats from Tel Aviv, Bolivia went a step further, severing its diplomatic ties with Israel, marking the second time the country has done so. In 2009, then-President Evo Morales broke ties during a prior Israel-Gaza conflict. Interim leader Jeanine Áñez restored relations in 2020. Now, Bolivia is one of three countries in the region that does not recognize Israel; Venezuela ended recognition in 2009 while Cuba severed ties in 1973.
This isn’t the first time recognition of Israel hasn’t been unanimous, with differences dating back to the nation’s founding. In 1947, 12 Latin American countries were among the 33 UN member states that voted for Resolution 181, which recommended partitioning Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. Cuba was the only Latin American country among the 13 that voted against the resolution. Ten countries abstained, five of which are in Latin America: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico. By 1949, all countries in the region recognized the state of Israel.
Although most leaders have condemned the attacks, there has not been a unified regional response to them or the subsequent conflict.
As of 2023, 17 Latin American countries had recognized a Palestinian state. A large number of those countries established recognition between 2009 to 2011. During those years, President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas made an effort to reach out to Latin American presidents after negotiations with Israel broke down. The most recent country in the region to recognize a Palestinian state was Colombia, which did so in 2018.
Two countries, Mexico and Panama, do not recognize a Palestinian state.
Three countries in the region provide monetary aid to Palestine through the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. In 2022, Mexico provided $750,000, while Brazil gave $75,000 and Chile gave $12,500.
One major diplomatic goal of the administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been to convince countries to move embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Most countries have kept their embassies in the Tel Aviv since 1980, when the UN passed a resolution in response to Israel declaring Jerusalem its “indivisible and eternal capital.” But two Latin American countries, Guatemala and Honduras, have gone along with Israeli efforts to move embassies. Guatemala made the move in 2018, just weeks after the United States did so, while Honduras made the switch in 2021. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (2019–2022) spoke about moving the embassy, but he opened a trade office in Jerusalem instead. Latin American Evangelicals—a group growing in size and political power—have backed relocation efforts.
Paraguay will soon join the two Central American countries in Jerusalem, as President Santiago Peña plans to relocate the embassy. If Peña follows through, this will be the second time Asunción was represented in Jerusalem. In May 2018, President Horacio Cartes (2013–2019) moved the embassy, but his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez (2018–2023), returned the diplomatic mission to Tel Aviv in September of the same year. Meanwhile, in Argentina, Javier Milei, one of the two candidates in the November 19 presidential runoff, has proposed moving his country’s embassy to Jerusalem as well.
Many Latin American countries maintain consulates in Palestine, mostly in Ramallah, the de facto administrative capital. The list includes Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela. President Gabriel Boric has spoken of upgrading Chile’s consulate to an embassy.
One of Israel’s major exports to Latin America is security equipment, including arms. There’s a long history to this trade, as Israel provided weapons during the region’s civil wars in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 2022, Israeli arms sales to Latin America were worth $381 million, up from $342 million the year before but down from $473 in 2018. Brazil was the largest purchaser of Israeli arms in the region in 2022, at $60 million. Overall, about one-third of Israeli arms sales are through government-to-government deals. The rest are sold by private Israeli firms.
Only about 6 percent of Israel’s defense exports are of cyber-intelligence products. However, they have received high levels of scrutiny for their use in Latin America. Mexico has paid an estimated $61 million since 2011 for Israeli surveillance software Pegasus, which has been used to spy on journalists. In El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, the software has also been used, though questions remain about who is using it in each country. While Pegasus’ producer is known to be NSO Group, other surveillance software is sold by Israeli intermediary firms in the region, making the exact source of the product unknown.
After Colombian President Gustavo Petro spoke out against Israeli actions in Gaza, Israel suspended the export of defense products to the South American country and cut off security cooperation. Earlier this year, Colombia purchased $101 million in tanks from an Israeli firm.