Last November 2015, the Uruguayan Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa made a speech in an official meeting in France and said very clearly that “there should be an international alliance to combat terrorism.”
The radical left, not only in Uruguay but in most countries in the region, made statements criticizing the proposal. In Uruguay, they said that they “should be neutral.”
Neutral on what?
"But let's be clear. Neither the state nor the civil society alone will be able to heal these deep wounds separately. The work must be done together."
In January of this year, before the massacre in Belgium but after the terrorist attacks in France in 2015, a major daily in Uruguay interviewed French Ambassador Sylvain Itte to Uruguay in Montevideo.
“Of course Uruguay is not outside terrorist threats. It would be very wrong to think that way or to think that any country can be free of such a threat,” Itte said. “Terrorists have no borders and their message is the same all over the world. You can´t live thinking 24 hours a day that there will be a terrorist attack, but if you compare 20 years ago, you must admit that there is no place on earth free from terrorist threats and attacks.”
Itte didn’t realize that this was basically a premonition.
15 years ago, Uruguay approved an anti-discriminatory law to combat hatred and anti-Semitism, defending the society against hate crimes. This was not a response to terrorism at the time but there were strong signs of intolerance and the approval of the law was essential.
On March 8 of this year, incitement progressed to murder, hate crimes and terrorism.
David Fremd, an extraordinary, devoted Jewish community leader in Paysandu, a city 400 kilometers from Montevideo, was stabbed to death. The killer admitted this was because he was Jewish.
Abdullah Omar, 35 years old, a school teacher, converted to Islam 10 years ago. His original name is Omar Peralta. He told the judge before being sentenced that he received “a call from Allah” to kill a Jew, so he went to the shop where he knew a prominent Jew worked and stabbed him.
Latin America is surrounded by incitement. From social media to the awful language used in political discussions in the media to the Uruguayan Congress, etc. We can watch it through the lens of the frenzied, radical left, which separates the world into good people and bad people, and blames Israel for all the evils on earth.
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In a blink of an eye, anti-Semitism rose like flames of a great fire and graffiti with the phrase, “Get out Jews from Uruguay” were painted in roads, streets, avenues and walls. Once incitement comes out, it does not go back.
The signs of hatred are out there. There are laws to fight discrimination and cyber harassment. But waiting for turmoil is not prevention as requested by the law.
Now that hate crimes and terrorism have taken place in Latin America, there have been some positive reactions.
The Uruguayan government, through its President Tabare Vazquez who took office a year ago, has promised that the administration will use its tools to combat all sorts of racism and discrimination at all levels.
But let´s be clear. Neither the state nor the civil society alone will be able to heal these deep wounds separately. The work must be done together.
Is it possible? We all hope so. Except for the ALBA countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela), democracy prevails.
In this fight to defend democracy, it’s not simply the future that is at stake. It is also the present.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.