Solidarity against imperialism, from Rio to Ramallah

Solidarity against imperialism, from Rio to Ramallah
Feature: High ranking Latin American diplomats, journalists and academics have met with their Palestinian counterparts to share experiences of struggle against the forces of imperialism.
5 min read
25 August, 2015
Palestinians and Latin Americans share a long history of solidarity [AFP]

Dima Khattib remembers declaring her Palestinian nationality to border officials in Caracas, Venezuela.

"I was greeted like some beautiful thing that landed from the sky because I was Palestinian," she said.

Declaring one's Palestinian nationality at an international border is often a moment of uncertainty and trepidation, due to the global community's ambivalent attitude to one's plight - either as a refugee, or holding a Palestinian Authority passport; a far from prestigious travel document.

Khattib, however, found that throughout her travels in Latin America as Al Jazeera's bureau chief for the region, she was greeted with love and respect by Venezuelans, Brazilians and others, enthused by a revitalised media landscape, which had turned its back on the US-controlled apparatus and narrative.

Khattib was but one of a number of Palestinians invited to the Middle East Monitor's recent event Palestine & Latin America in the 21st Century: Building Solidarity for National Rights.

Her compatriots mirrored her sentiment towards Latin America, which was one of gratitude for the messages and actions of solidarity from the continent, which have grown in recent years.

Experience in colonisation

The first panel of high-ranking diplomats and politicians from Latin America spoke about the illegality of Israel's blockade and occupation of Palestinian land earmarked for a sovereign Palestinian state by the consensus of the international community.

     I was greeted like some beautiful thing that landed from the sky because I was Palestinian
- Dima Khattib

The also spoke vociferously of the impact that neoliberalism has had upon the communities of Latin America, something which attendees from the PA-administered West Bank will be familiar with.  

Jorge Luis Garcia, political councillor for the Republic of Cuba, drew comparisons between Cuba's experience under the US blockade, and that of Gaza, to the applause of many in the audience.

For many Palestinians, Che Guevara, who fused the idea of revolutionary resistance to imperialism with the idea of a new man under socialism in Cuba, inspired the fight against Israel during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Cuba was, to many in Palestine, the standard bearer of resistance during a time when Palestinian armed factions often read off a left wing, secular script - and his legacy still inspires many to this day.

Guilame Long, minister of culture for the Republic of Ecuador, commented that, not only had Israel not assisted popular left wing forces in Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s - but had helped arm a litany of the continent's most fascist and reactionary elements, notably Mossad's alleged arming of paramilitary groups in Colombia, notorious for conducting disappearances and massacres.

Sweeping to power

For the Latin American Left, the position was simple, and with the arrival of a slew of left wing governments in the region during the 1990s, the anti-imperialist stance of Chavez of Venezuela was replicated by Correa of Ecuador, Morales of Bolivia and Lula of Brazil.

The Bolivian ambassador to the UK, Roberto Calzadilla Sarmiento, like his Ecuadorian and Cuban counterparts, spoke repeatedly of the human rights situation, and of Israel's transgressions with regards to international law. His president, Evo Morales, has been consistent in backing Palestinian statehood, as demanded by the international community.

Sarmiento told al-Araby of the ideology which motivated Latin Americans to support Palestine:

"The spirit of Bolivarianism is the spirit of integration - this spirit to see south-south relations to show their solidarity, it's not about competition within us, but to be united."

One of the main differences Bolivia has undergone in recent years is the redrafting of its constitution, which Morales, the first indigenous Latin American president, has championed.

"We became a plurinational state respecting 36 indigenous nations, with their languages, with their cultures and their territories, which has changed the laws in Bolivia, and endorsing collective communitarian rights which has strengthened our economy, which has helped the indigenous people," Sarmiento added.

The Bolivian model will turn heads among the growing movement for a single state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli impasse, in a manner which pays attention to a pluralist solution which respects the rights of all peoples involved.

The pen and the sword

Culture is the incubator of any resistance to domination, and many Palestinians have been of this notion throughout decades of their struggle. Perhaps the most iconic individual of Palestinian cultural resistance is the late cartoonist Naji Ali, creator of Handala.

Carlos Latuff, the Brazilian cartoonist and social activist, follows in the same vein as Ali, drawing cartoons criticising Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

"Cartoons are the easiest way to communicate something to an audience," he said. "I have been making cartoons about Palestine since 1998 - since I was in the West Bank, and it is my way to support Palestine."

     For the Palestinians, Kalashnikovs are not the only weapon, they can use also the pen
- Carlos Latuff

The controversial cartoonist has faced many censorship attempts.

"Mohammad cartoons are freedom of speech, but cartoons about Israel are anti-Semitic, and I want to challenge this," he said.

Cartoonism is but one way to mount a resistance, said Latuff. "For the Palestinians, Kalashnikovs are not the only weapon, they can use also the pen."

'Good friends'

The frequent referral by Latin American attendees to human rights standards was picked up by Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian.

Commenting on accusations of anti-Semitism that are often levelled by Israeli apologists against Israeli critics, Pappe noted how this did not impact Latin American discourse.

"There are no hang-ups, no nails of guilt, which should convince us that no western involvement in the issue will bring any transitional justice," he said.

Wadah Khanfar, president of Al Sharq forum and a former director-general of Al Jazeera, said a new world order was emerging, and that the powers which uphold Israel - namely US diplomatic muscle - were flagging

Francisco Dominguez agreed. "The transition to a free Palestine is possible - because it has very good friends," he said.

With a diplomatic malaise characterising the Arab League, economic and political incoherency dominating policy in the EU, and collusion with Israel a key component of US foreign policy, Palestinians may come to rely more and more on these good friends - whose experience with imperialism and dedication to the human rights of the Palestinians will be much needed.