The first round of the presidential elections in Colombia will take place by the end of May and the runoff in mid-June. Colombia has been one of the closest friends of Israel in decades. Israel has had its support in the U.N. agencies, and the Colombian governments have sided with Israel in the fight against terrorism.
The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla army is still active. A month ago, FARC carried out an attack in Bogota that left two children dead. The same organization, through its political branch called Comunes, expressed its support for the presidential candidacy of the extreme leftist Gustavo Petro, who is leading the polls and is the probable winner of the first round. He may lose the runoff, but it is uncertain.
During the most recent wars of Israel against the Hamas terrorists, Petro wrote in social media that the “Israelis are behaving like Hitler.” When he was criticized for these posts he said, “I have nothing against the Jewish religion but the State of Israel must stop treating the Palestinians as the Nazis did with the Jews.” In April, Petro attacked the critical press, calling it neo-Nazi. He referred specifically to Jewish journalist David Ghitis, who in a column in the RCN media said that Petro “threatens private property.” “Neo-Nazis in RCN,” Petro said, about a Jewish columnist and the media outlet that gave him the platform.
When somebody who wants to become president resorts to the expression “neo-Nazi” that automatically opens the way for violence and censorship because, under their logic, there is no other way to deal with Nazism. There is nothing more similar to an extreme behavior than to go around calling anyone who dissents from you a Nazi. The example of the outrageous language, which is also being used by Russia against Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, is overwhelming in this matter.
If he becomes president, Petro’s proposals are to: expropriate private property (similar to what happened in Venezuela and Cuba), impose tariffs, increase taxes and public spending, reform the police and education system in order to ideologize them. The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, whom Petro admired, did the same, and we know what is happening in Venezuela as a result.
Gustavo Petro was a member of the terrorist guerrilla organization M-19, responsible for one of the biggest attacks in the history of Colombia (the seizure of the Palace of Justice, when the terrorist organization killed 11 soldiers and 43 civilians in November 1985). And his relationships also come from the past: admiration for Chávez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and friendship with Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the Spanish far-left group Podemos.
According to the polls, Petro has close to 43% of the vote, so he has great chances to win the runoff too—the opinion many political analysts and observers share.
Near Colombia, Brazil, which is the largest Latin American country, will have presidential elections in October.
Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (who was president for two terms) is leading the polls and hopes to win the election. Lula is 76 years old. In the first week of May, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, bear equal responsibility for the war in Ukraine. In an interview with Time magazine, the former president said it was irresponsible for western leaders to celebrate Zelensky because they are encouraging war instead of focusing on closed-door negotiations to stop the fighting. “This guy (Zelensky) is as responsible as Putin for the war,” Lula added. He intends to return to office after the annulment last year of corruption convictions that had put Lula in jail. Lula said Zelensky should have yielded to Russian opposition to Ukraine’s moves to join NATO and negotiated with Putin to avoid a conflict. Lula went further and added, “Biden could have avoided war, not incited it.” “Biden could have taken a plane to Moscow to talk to Putin. This is the kind of attitude you expect from a leader. Putin shouldn’t have invaded Ukraine. But it’s not just Putin who is guilty. The U.S. and the EU are also guilty.”
It is not surprising that Lula has made such statements. He was a mentor for Chavez and current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro; he hosted former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Brasilia; when Israel was attacked by Hamas in 2014, he, as Brazilian president, said that Israel was “perpetrating genocide against the Palestinians.” Today, he attacks Zelensky, the U.S. and the EU as Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua have done in the region since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February.
When uncertainty, uneasiness, and possible dangerous political, economic and social scenarios surround elections in Latin America, the gray clouds can be seen all over the region. And even more so if those elections are taking place in the most powerful country in Latin America (Brazil) and in one of its largest countries (Colombia).
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.