Latin America, neo-imperialism, and Palestine

Dr. Guillaume Long I Geopolitics I Commentary I October 8th, 2015

The following is part of a speech by Dr. Guillaume Long, given at the Middle East Monitor's 2015 international conference.

Latin American solidarity with Palestine has a long history, particularly on the political left. This is not something new. What is new is that the political left is suddenly in power in a number of countries in Latin America, whereas it wasn't for most of the history of the Cold War.

Cuba obviously was the precursor in - I would say - south-south relations in general, not just relations with Palestine, from a Latin American perspective. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Cuba had a foreign policy that was that of a giant, including military intervention and a number of extra-continental scenarios in Africa.

In fact, in the case of the Middle East, Cuba participated in the Yom Kippur war in 1973 on the Syrian side and Cuba led the way for the Latin American left, for many years, on its position on Palestine.

Nicaragua then played an important role in the 1980s also with a strong internationalist position. We are here today with the Bolivian ambassador who proudly explained to you all what Bolivia has done. It's been one of the most radical countries in opposing what we've called the Israeli genocide in Gaza. We are the proud heirs of this left-wing, Latin American, internationalist south-south tradition of standing by Palestine.

Conversely, Israel has played a very conservative, pro-status quo in Latin America since the birth of the Israeli state. So there's a direct correlation there. If you look at the role of Israel in Latin America, particularly in the 1980s, which is when it really gets involved, it was basically doing the dirty work that the Americans really didn't want to do.

Specifically in Colombia, they were very strong in Colombia in the army and training the paramilitary forces and we're talking really bad paramilitary forces - drug cartels involved in genocide and killing anything not just the guerrilla forces, killing anybody that they suspected of remotely progressive ideas. People like Yair Klein are very well documented now and Isaac Shoshani. The Mossad basically were very heavily involved in arming paramilitary groups in Colombia.

Paramilitary groups are still a part of the problem today; in fact they are one of the major hurdles to reaching sustainable peace in Colombia, for which we're all very enthusiastic in Latin America, especially in the neighboring countries such as Ecuador, because the Colombian war has affected all of us. Paramilitary groups trained and armed for a long time by Israel are a major obstacle in reaching that peace.

The same situation affected the Central American conflicts. Israel played a really nefarious role in the Central American conflicts supporting some of the most aggressive, genocidal dictatorships. Playing a role in the Contras and Sandinistas war, obviously on the side of the Contras. And in the south coast also we find traces of Israeli intervention in the Argentine dictatorship.

So again, for the Latin American left, the scenario is pretty simple. We all believe in the right for the Jewish and Israeli people to live in peace but we're very clear about the role that Israel is playing in Latin America and the role Israel is playing through its colonial policies and its policies of apartheid in the Middle East.

In Latin America, broadly speaking, there's a backlash against neo-liberalism in the 1980s and the 1990s. Latin America was a real laboratory for extremely radical and fundamentalist neo-liberal austerity policies in the 1980s and 1990s starting with, of course, Chile during the Pinochet years but all of us were really very much affected by Reaganomics applied to Latin America. This isn't Reaganomics or Thatcherism applied to the welfare state. Reaganomics applied largely to a pre-modern feudal context where there is already an absence of state is terrible and it meant the abolishment of large parts of our population, the dramatic rise of inequality and that dramatic rise of inequality caused a political backlash.

First it caused, during the 1990s, a lot of political instability, a lot of uprisings. In the case of Ecuador we were one of the greatest victims of that instability. Between 1996 and 2006, in that decade, we had seven presidents and I'm not even counting overnight juntas and presidents for a few hours. It was chaos caused by massive impoverishment of the population and the rise of inequality and austerity, negative growth rates, a major banking crisis in 1999, a migrant crisis and so on.

All this created a backlash, with the election in the case of Ecuador of President Correa in 2006, but it started officially with the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998 creating a scenario where we can talk of a very important number of countries in Latin America that are on the political left, that have adopted progressive redistributive policies for their populations and are basically asserting very sovereign foreign policies and this sovereign foreign policy is anti-imperialism. It has obvious consequences in our relation with the Middle East and in our condemnation of Israeli colonialism.

Colonialism is also a sensitive issue in the Americas and Latin America, we still have colonial outlets one of them on the Falkland islands of course, which we all consider a colony, all of Latin America has a unified position on that nowadays. And Puerto Rico, which is a US colony of course amongst others. So this is something we feel very strongly about and Israeli colonialism and apartheid politics is no exception.

Finally, I think one of the most remarkable things of what's taking place in Latin America is that we maybe, this is taking a risk here, that we may be the first real true experiment of consolidating the nation state in the traditional, sense, the capitalist nation state, although we try to take it as close as we can to a more socialist model, that's not violent and that's democratic.

If you think about it, the construction of a modern state is always violent, and in pretty much every case is always authoritarian. Even in the case of the United States which was one of the most democratic experiments at creating the modern capitalist state. Even in the case of the United States the tension between capitalism and feudalism was eventually solved through civil war.

We're dealing with that tension now, that same tension between the plantation state that we inherited, with all the inequalities and all the exploitation and all the traumas and a modern state that gives rights to its citizens through absolutely peaceful and non-authoritarian means. In Ecuador we've had ten elections in the last eight years. Local media - local as in UK and European call it populism, we believe the name for that is democracy.

And I think that is the great south-south example Ecuador and its neighbors and Latin America have to give. And I would include the Middle East. This kind of tension that we've seen in the Middle East and in the south in general, in the third world in general between sovereignty on the one hand and democracy on the other has to be resolved. As I said Ecuador has had ten elections in eight years. We can't fear democracy, whatever the outcome may be. And this is also a debate that has to do with the Middle East and it's a very worrying debate in the context of Europe. We cannot fear democracy, whatever the result may be, whether we like it or we don't approve of the result.

But at the same time we have to articulate nationalist and sovereign policies that enable our states to be viable, to be independent, and to be equal leaders in the international system. And I think that if you look back on the Latin American experience, 100 years from now from a historians' point of view, that will be the single most novel thing about Latin America, how we've managed in the case of Ecuador to chuck the US military base out of Ecuador and say thank you but no thank you, go home. How we've managed to redistribute land and wealth with income inequality reducing, reducing the Gini coefficient from 0.55 to 0.36, - that's how inequality is measured internationally - without violence, through democracy, through elections, without empire.

And that's something we have to reflect in the political context, in the context of precarious institutionalization, in the context of nation states that are still not consolidated which is the case of the so-called third world.

President Correa headed one of the governments that last year condemned what we called an Israeli genocide in Gaza. We recalled our ambassador and we opened our newly inaugurated embassy in Ramallah. Our struggle against remnants of colonialism has to be one and integrated, and that necessarily includes one of the great paradoxes of the 21st century, which is the plight of the Palestinian people.

So we have to understand the plight of the Palestinian people; that's how we're treating it in Latin America, as part of a much broader pattern of symmetry, injustice, colonialism and neo-colonialism and imperialism. As such, the people of Palestine can count on the solidarity of the people of Ecuador.

Read the full transcript of the speech here.