By Rachel Knopp
College students have become emblematic elements of nonviolent resistance throughout the world. Perhaps most famous were the anti-Vietnam protests when college campuses in the United States transformed into hotbeds of political activity. Students would organize “teach-ins” to rally against the escalation of the war. In Europe, Serbian university students organized poster campaigns and satirical concerts against the oppressive Milošević regime. Just two years later, these ‘unruly’ young people had successfully overthrown a dictator.
Today, we see that same trend of student activism visit another country with a democracy on the brink of collapse: Venezuela. In Venezuela, supermarket shelves and pharmacies are virtually empty. Due to the lack of food, medicines and medical equipment, people are dying of easily preventable causes. The Venezuelan economy is heading in a nosedive, evident in a current unemployment rate of 17 percent and an inflation rate that is expected to hit 481 percent by the end of the year, per Ian Bremmer of Time.
The severity of the humanitarian crisis is felt by many, with two million Venezuelans taking refuge in neighboring countries throughout recent years. Yet, the dire situation continues to grow. The Maduro-led government refuses to accept humanitarian assistance from the international community. Refusals indicate a blatant disregard for human life, amid an increasingly tense political climate.
According to Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, President Nicolas Maduro has deliberately dismantled the democratic institutions of his country since his election in 2013. The Venezuelan constitution, which safeguards the most coveted freedoms of democracy, has overtly been disregarded. Maduro and the executive branch now enjoy a strong-hold over all key government institutions. The Supreme Court has stripped powers away from the legislature and the military has become government cronies in quashing opposition.
Maduro has explicitly stated his contempt for dissent. “Prepare for a time of massacre and death if the Bolivarian revolution fails,” he warned. Sadly, Maduro’s warning has come to fruition, with university students bearing the brunt of this burden. Of the 92 dissidents who were killed from April 1 to July 10, 31 of them were aged 21 or younger.
Even with Maduro’s grave forewarning and demonstrated commitment to stamp out opposition, many students have nevertheless left their lecture halls in favor of the streets. "We just couldn't sit calmly in class when down the road fellow youths were being killed in clashes with the security forces," Gabriela Sayago, a 24-year-old dentistry student at the University of Merida. told the BBC News. Students like Sayago have vowed to complete their studies, but only under a free and fair Venezuela.
To achieve that goal, student organizers have partnered with the opposition party to resist the regime and its grim promise to rewrite the constitution. According to David Gonzalez of The New York Times, the recent opposition-led referendum voted 98 percent in favor of rejecting Maduro’s efforts to rewrite the constitution, of nearly 7.8 million votes. These Venezuelans demanded that the current constitution be respected in order to prevent Maduro’s path to dictatorship.
The student activists are being credited with utilizing more sophisticated tools of protests, including psychological sessions and civil disobedience workshops on their university campuses. In conjunction, the opposition is organizing a nationwide 24-hour strike, which is expected to be a “massive, nonviolent protest.: In some areas, the movement has even adopted a database to track the safety of protesters who continue to take to the streets.
Almagro recognizes the grueling, historical struggle that Latin American countries have faced to achieve democracy. Many of the region’s most respected leaders have their own memories of participating in popular protest. Yet the case of Venezuela demonstrates the fragility of even an established democracy.
Still, the Maduro government claims to be a representative voice of its people on the international stage. Particularly, the Venezuelan government has used its position at the United Nations to criticize and condemn Israel. Venezuela uses the same institutions, in which it refuses to accept humanitarian assistance to save its own people, to turn the focus toward the State of Israel.
In May the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations raised in the Security Council whether Israel intended to “wage a final solution sort of solution [against the Palestinians] as was perpetrated against the Jews?” The comparison to Nazi-Germany was quickly condemned by the United Kingdom and the United States and distinguished as anti-Semitism by Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon. Anti-Semitism has become a flagrant issue within the country itself. Since Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, took power in 1999 nearly 50 percent of Venezuelan Jews have left the country. During that time, Chávez took steps to deepen relations with the Palestinian leadership and Iranian government. He viewed Israel as a Middle Eastern proxy of the United States and thus adopted anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments in his rhetoric. Chávez’s rhetoric spilled over into government-sponsored media and local governments thus creating an intolerable space for Jews in the country.
The January appointment of Vice President Tareck El Aissami has reiterated concerns over Venezuela’s connections in the Middle East. From a testimony last year at the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Joseph Humire detailed the vice president’s complex financial network, which includes laundering millions of dollars on behalf of organizations like Hezbollah. Hezbollah, an internationally recognized terror organization, has called for the destruction of Israel since its founding. El Aissami’s financial dealings point to the infiltration of Islamic extremism at the highest levels of Venezuelan government.
In June U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called for Venezuela to step down from its position at the United Nations Human Rights Council if it could not put an end to its own human rights abuses. Haley continued to express her frustration that not a single resolution had been considered by the council to address the Venezuelan abuses, yet five had been passed against Israel in March alone. This, she said, marked another example of the anti-Israel bias that has long plagued the U.N.
Various human rights violators of the world have used United Nations institutions to divert attention from their own records of abuse and shift the focus toward Israel. Venezuela has been a leader in this diversion tactic, yet the popular protests that ensue within the country suggest that these accusations do not represent the concerns of the people.
Those who follow the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement have seen student activism as a tool to delegitimize Israel in the region. In particular Chile, the country with the largest Palestinian population outside of the Middle East has answered the BDS call. Chile’s votes against Israel at the United Nations mirror the Pontifical Catholic University student body vote to reject ties with Israeli academic institutions. Not coincidentally, anti-Semitic incidents and attacks have risen within the country. Schools, synagogues and cemeteries have been vandalized and the president of Chile’s Jewish community has been provided police protection.
Observers of the BDS movement may regard university campuses as a battle to be lost, but that fear may not be warranted elsewhere in the region. The young people of Venezuela continue to carry out the fight of their lives, with July 9 marking the 100 consecutive day of protest in Caracas. This past Sunday marked the deadliest day yet, following the fraudulent election to move forward with the Constituent Assembly. The election results ensure that a return to democracy through traditional democratic channels is impossible, now making the protest movement indispensable.
Evidence from other countries in the region suggests that the students who are protesting in the streets today will become the key decision-makers of their countries tomorrow. We must look beyond the votes of diplomats and recognize the strength of the movements that are fighting against this phony representation. The current standoff between the government and its opposition may signify a change in who will speak on behalf of Venezuelans in the future—and how they will exercise that voice on the world stage.
Photo via Flickr
By Eduardo Kohn
On Sunday, after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that the election he promoted to create a Congress with similar power to the Soviets some decades ago had been successful and that eight million people voted, countries around the world not only rejected what they called “a fraud of election” but also said that Maduro had become a “dictator.”
Unfortunately the results mean that the Venezuelan people—who don’t have enough food and medicines and are under a social and economic tragedy—have been suffering under a dictatorship for a long time. . The judiciary is a mockery, the Congress that was elected two years ago has been under attack every minute and has not been able to make one single decision, there are thousands of political prisoners suffering torture in prison and media have been closed down.
So, when European officers say that after what they call a fraud election on Sunday, Maduro has become a “dictator,” they are coming late.
The Assembly that has been established now will sweep away any seed of opposition and the dictatorship will be installed definitively. But in reality, it is the culmination of a process of many years, and the countries of the Americas and Europe have watched without taking serious actions, related to, among other issues, the violation of human rights. Now the situation looks very bad, as it usually happens when the world finally sits up and takes notice.
After the election, the Venezuelan regime found full support in Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador in Latin America. But most important for Venezuela, Maduro received public support from Russia, China and Iran. Those are the friends of this regime.
The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on Maduro. The U.S. government froze any American assets Maduro may have and banned Americans from doing business with him.
But even with international pressure building and Venezuela’s economy collapsing, opposition activists were facing a new challenge. How could they confront a machine that now controls all branches of government?
The new super-congress, made up entirely of government backers, will have sweeping powers to rewrite the constitution and redraw Venezuela’s governing system.
Maduro dismissed the U.S. measures, saying on television that they were imposed because he didn’t obey the “North American empire.” He added: “Impose all the sanctions that you want, but I’m a free president.”
Luisa Ortega Díaz, Venezuela’s attorney general, who broke with the government in March, on Monday declared the vote fraudulent. She suggested that Maduro and his inner circle, including a vice president accused by the U.S. government of narco-trafficking, would now seek to use the new assembly to monopolize money and power. “How will we control the public budget now? How will we know how much and in what things money is being invested?” she said. The answer is simple: there will be no control.
Latin American nations from Argentina to Panama to Brazil, including Peru and Colombia, have also declared the vote illegitimate, with regional foreign ministers set to meet in Peru next week to review the crisis. But nobody expects that crucial decisions will be made.
Last Sunday one important question was whether the domestic opposition can sustain the pressure it has brought to bear on Maduro’s administration. The brutal answer from Maduro came between Monday and Tuesday: in the middle of the night, the secret police took Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, two of the major opposition leaders, to prison.
With the support of Russia and Iran, with Hezbollah cells installed in the country, Venezuela, now a full dictatorship, is a great threat for the Americas. Its sponsors, mainly Iran, mean terrorism. And terrorism, under this picture is at the front door in the region.
The Organization of American States and the United Nations Security Council should find a way to protect Venezuela and its people, as well as the rest of the region, from such a threat. It is not only their duty, it is an urgent need.
Bolivia, the closest ally of the Venezuelan government in Latin America; Bolivia is also close with Iran; Bolivia has be named the chair of the United Nations Security Council in June.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, who decided to break relations with Israel in 2014 by saying the Israel is a “terrorist State,” announced the two main goals of his government in the next 30 days: Bolivia will be the President of the Security Council.
"Our priorities, conflict in the Middle East of 50 years of the occupation of Palestine, and non-proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons,” Morales said.
Morales also said that his country “assumes with great responsibility the presidency of the U.N. Security Council and we will work for the resolution of international conflicts."
It is hard to believe that the debates promoted by Bolivia may end in positive results for any conflict.
During the U.N. General Assembly last September, Morales made it very clear what the meaning of peace and equity is for his government. Let´s review some of his thoughts, taken from his speech.
On the building of a wall: “The capitalist countries have built borders and walls everywhere—on water, on land and in the air. One out of every 100 people in the world is either a refugee or someone displaced by global warming, wars or imperialist invasions, as occurred in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other countries.”
Morales thinks that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a victim.
On Israel hatred: “The expansionist and warmongering policies of the State of Israel and its allies are major expressions of barbarism in the modern world. We strongly condemn Israel’s attacks on the civilian population of Palestine and demand that Israel cease hostilities immediately. We urge the United Nations to fully and immediately recognize the State of Palestine and take tangible action to stop the brutal genocide of the Palestinian people.”
Morales uses Iranian anti-Israeli language to attack the Jewish state and has never recognized the terror committed by Hezbollah and Hamas. All the same: Hamas is a great friend to Bolivia.
On justifying why there is terrorism: “It must be said that as long as wealth remains in the hands of a few, as long as poverty and exclusion exist, as long as racism and discrimination persist, as long as the identity and the sovereignty of peoples are not respected and their natural resources are pillaged for imperialist purposes, there will be grounds for violence and terrorism.”
Morales believes that “imperialism” is the root of terrorism. This is the way Iran and its proxies speak up, and Bolivia endorses, not only the language, but its votes in U.N. agencies.
Bolivia and Morales can´t accept that Venezuela is a dictatorship and is undergoing a humanitarian crisis with lack of medicines and food. Bolivia endorsed former Bolivian President Hugo Chavez and now Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, regardless of the massive protests in the streets of Venezuela, the tens of civilians killed and put in jail. Morales´ words are clear and rather unsustainable:
“Imperialist interests are creating a process of political destabilization in our region. We condemn foreign political intervention in our brother country of Venezuela. We salute the revolutionary fight of the people, undertaken with their leader, Commander Maduro. The new imperial conspiracy in the twenty-first century is no longer through coups d’état but rather through parliamentary or judicial takeovers. They may be legal and constitutional, but they are not legitimate, nor do they respect the decisions of the people. We do not need an imperial leader to control our people.”
The chairmanship of Bolivia in the Security Council will serve no purpose. A government supporting al-Assad and its brutal crimes in Syria; accusing Israel of genocide; backing the brutality against civilians in Venezuela should not be given the opportunity to spread such hatred. On the contrary, it should be exposed for defending all principles and regimes opposed to democracy and peace.
But this is the way it works in U.N. agencies. And so, rhetoric moves forward each day more and more, helping countries to fight hunger and terrorism is each day further and further.
Public opinion states that it is very difficult to understand why indifferent and evil interests have made the heinous killing of civilians in Syria possible.
There are harsh claims from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media and some sensitive political leaders blaming the United Nations Security Council and specifically those countries with veto power. These claims were the center of debate some weeks ago during a Security Council session, which discussed sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons, yet again, on its civilians.
There was an agreement to punish the Assad regime, but Russia vetoed that resolution. Latin American countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba have repeatedly backed Assad, and Latin America as a whole has not been clear in its stand before the Syrian tragedy.
This time, Uruguay reacted slightly differently from other Latin American countries. Permanent Representative of Uruguay Ambassador Elbio Rosselli started his speech saying “keep calm and carry on,” an English motto from World War II.
Rosselli continued to say, “We have to keep calm in order to be able to keep doing our job as Security Council, because the Syrian war must be kept in a multilateral frame and the main responsibility for it lies in this Council.”
Immediately, Rosselli criticized the Russian veto by saying: “the members of this Council should understand the damage of the use of the veto when we face such horrible situations. Veto in these times means lack of efficiency of the Council and makes our job unbalanced.”
But on the other hand, Rosselli said that unilateral use of force is considered by Uruguay as “illegitimate.” This was a clear criticism of the United States bombing of Syria after Assad’s chemical attack on his own people.
And here we have the main point: the use of the word “balance.”
The use of chemical weapons by Assad is a war crime and must be judged as such. To veto any sanction of those who engage in acts of barbarity, shows the lack of any efficiency of the Security Council and the U.N. itself.
The U.S. bombing was not as unilateral as it was mentioned in the Security Council. The U.S. previously reported that China and other countries, which also have veto power, knew that the bombing would take place.
Is it necessary to criticize just for the record or to show impartiality? Absolutely not. All members of the Security Council were fully aware that the United States had spoken with China, United Kingdom and France before attacking Syria. So, the so called “impartiality” was out of the queston.
But this political way to use “balance” is unfortunately used all the time in U.N. agencies and in the Security Council as well.
And Israel is one of those issues. What is the “balance” of devoting one full Security Council session a month speaking against Israel, and doing nothing to find a path to peace, but instead, spread rhetoric full of lies and hatred?
Well, there is no balance whatsoever. And Latin American countries instead of helping to end dubious and useless “balances” which go nowhere should be instrumental to open the eyes to African, European countries in order to help altogether to do a serious work at the U.N.
Another question without a possible serious answer: Why introduce a motion to sanction Syria when everybody in the whole world knew that Russia would veto and the genocide would continue endlessly?
History remembers and honors those who put an end to evil and barbarism. However, history also remembers indifference and silence.
Facing economic collapse and a great shortage in public support, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has chosen as his vice president one of Venezuela's most controversial and feared politicians, government critics say—Tareck El Aissami.
El Aissami has climbed from student leader in rural Venezuela to the country's number two in power in just over a decade.
El Aissami, 42 years old, is one of a number of Venezuelans under investigation by U.S. authorities for alleged participation in drug trafficking and money laundering. He played a key role in helping Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist group, gain ground in Latin America. A young star in the so called socialist party, El Aissami is viewed by both supporters and critics as extremely dangerous, far from any political ethics and skills.
Maduro, whom former President Hugo Chavez chose as his own successor, has been under pressure to step aside because of the country's potential default, widespread social unrest and a demanding opposition. He has so far avoided—through his control of the so called legal system—the opposition's attempt to hold a referendum on his removal before his term ends in about two years. Many analysts say if things continue to decline, the main risk to him is from within the military.
El Aissami's selection addresses Maduro’s concerns. Those seeking to oust Maduro probably will be more careful facing El Aissami and might hesitate to pursue their efforts. And the new vice president is a strong man with tight control over internal security forces and little loyalty to the military. He would be less tempted to take part in a military-led coup than to resist it.
In the weeks since El Aissaimi became vice president, Maduro has granted him wide-reaching decree powers and helped him to lead a newly formed “commando unit” against alleged coups and officials suspected of treason. The “Unity” has already arrested “opposition” members without hesitation or embarrassment.
El Aissami first met Chavez when he was a student. According to three witnesses, El Aissami openly celebrated the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States, and has served as one of Chavez's closest allies ever since. In his last post as governor of Aragua, he regularly denounced government opponents as traitors. A court in Aragua annulled the recall referendum there, charging the opposition with collecting fraudulent signatures.
El Aissami has publicly denied any alleged drug ties, saying they are little more than media lies, but traces of all sort of media investigations end in his family circle and his people in Aragua.
El Aissami won a seat in congress as a representative of Merida in 2005. Chavez named the young congressman as vice minister and later minister of interior. Much of what El Aissami tried as interior minister was resisted by the military. In 2012, El Aissami won the governorship of Aragua and the opposition has since labeled El Aissami "the narco (nark) of Aragua,” alleging that he has used his vast political network to help turn the country into an international hub for drugs and Middle Eastern extremists.
Since at least 2011, Homeland Security Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration have been investigating El Aissami for money laundering to the Middle East, specifically Lebanon.
In this context, CNN has made this week the following announcement:
“Passports In The Shadows,” a two-part joint investigation by CNN and CNN en Espanol airing on February 6 and February 8 within AC360°(8-9pm ET, CNN), uncovers an alleged sale of passports and visas from the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq, as well as how U.S. officials have known about other passport irregularities in Venezuela for more than a decade. The yearlong investigation showcases an account by a whistleblower, the former legal adviser to the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad, who provided CNN with comprehensive reports of the alleged activity inside the embassy and the government officials’ dismissal of the allegations.CNN tracks down the former general in charge of the country’s immigration office, now living in Miami under political asylum, who details the corruption he says he witnessed for years, including the issuing of fraudulent passports. CNN and CNN en Espanol conducted interviews in the U.S., Venezuela, Spain and the UK over the past year. Additionally, CNN has obtained a confidential intelligence report from Latin American countries that links the new vice president of Venezuela, Tareck El Aissami, to the issuance of passports to individuals from the Middle East as well as people linked to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
Countries and governments all over the world know what has been going on in Venezuela for the last ten years, and the absolute lack of any freedom in the last five years. Everybody knows the violation of human rights, the absolute absence of judiciary, political prisoners under inhuman conditions and the total disrespect for the law.
Why the silence then? Why isn’t there a vote in the Organization of American States (OAS) or any of the U.N. agencies to try to change the situation? The OAS secretary-general speaks out, but is never endorsed, why?
There are no positive answers to these questions. As there are no answers, Tareck Al Aissami can rule “de facto” as it happens today, and Iran and Hezbollah can celebrate.
Israel Is Strengthening Ties With Several Latin American States, But Will This Impact The Way These Countries Vote At The U.N.?
There are reasons to be optimistic about the progress of the bilateral relations between Israel and several Latin American states. Changes in the leadership of several countries, as well as a more proactive Israeli policy towards the region, are proving quite promising. On the other hand, it seems that there is still a long way to go when it comes to translating these good relations into changes in the voting patterns of some of these countries at the United Nations on resolutions involving Israel.
Let’s start with Paraguay. From the moment, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes took office in August of 2013; the relations with Israel (which had already improved during the interim government of President Franco) got a strong boost. The Paraguayan government started to distinguish itself from other voices in the region and took a principled stance every time Israeli actions were judged by other nations. During the latest Gaza war, for example, there was an attempt at a meeting of Mercosur (the economic bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela) to issue a joint communiqué strongly condemning Israeli actions. Paraguay opposed this measure. And it took similar positions in support of Israel in different international forums. Today, Paraguay abstains on almost all anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.
An important step taken by Israel to strengthen the bilateral relations with Paraguay was the decision to re-open the Israeli Embassy in Asuncion (which was closed in 2002 for budgetary reasons). This was very well received in Asuncion by both the Paraguayan government and the local Jewish community.
Three key anti-Israel resolutions were put to a vote at the General Assembly a few days ago. These are the resolutions that renew, year after year, the mandates and the funding authorizations for the following entities: 1. the Palestinian Rights Division; 2. the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; and 3. the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People. These resolutions are very important because they maintain a powerful anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that functions under U.N. auspices.
Paraguay kept its abstentions on these three anti-Israel resolutions this year. Even though these abstentions are highly appreciated, it would be desirable for Paraguay to go a step further and cast “no” votes, as abstentions unfortunately do not prevent resolutions from being approved at the General Assembly. Time will tell if Paraguay will be ready to make that positive move, in light of the increasingly close relations between this South American nation and Israel.
Israel’s relations with Peru have also improved in recent years. But Peru’s recent role at UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee was a cause for concern. The Peruvian representative actively supported a draft resolution (when the Committee met in Istanbul last July) that was quite insulting to Jews, referring to the most sacred places for Judaism only by their Muslim names (it was, of course, insulting to Christians as well). The draft resolution could not be put to a vote because of the attempted coup in Turkey but when it came up again in October, Peru abstained, which clearly showed that the ambassador received instructions in this regard from the new government of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who took office in late July. The outlook of the new president, a brilliant economist who spent many years in the United States, and who has Jewish roots, bears well for the progress of the bilateral relations between Israel and Peru.
Peru has abstained on these anti-Israel resolutions at the General Assembly for many years now, and it kept these abstentions this year. As in the case of Paraguay though, it would be desirable for Peru to start voting “no.”
The arrival of Mauricio Macri to the presidency of Argentina in December of 2015, which put an end to the 12 years of “Kirchnerismo,” opened a window of opportunity for improving this country’s bilateral relations with Israel. And the positive signs are many. One of the first things President Macri did when taking office was to nullify the shameful “pact” that the previous government had signed with Iran to “jointly investigate” the 1994 terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish Center (the worst terrorist attack ever suffered by Argentina or any other Latin American country). The president also promised to guarantee the independence of the judiciary so that the mysterious death of AMIA case Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, and the complaint that he had made against the government, are properly investigated.
Last April, the Executive Board of UNESCO approved a very troublesome anti-Israel and anti-Jewish resolution. The Argentine representative supported it but, when the resolution was taken up by the plenary last October, Argentina abstained. With regard to the three key General Assembly resolutions, since 2004, Argentina voted “for” two of these resolutions and “abstains” on one. Unfortunately, there were no changes this year in this regard.
Since Brazilian President Michel Temer took office last August, the country’s sometimes shaky relations with Israel appear to have entered a new phase. His Foreign Minister Jose Serra is close to the local Jewish community, and the government seems to be determined to get Brazil’s foreign policy a new turn. We still need to see if this will indeed happen, as Brazil’s powerful Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty) has proved over the years to be quite resistant to change. But there has been already a positive sign when it comes to Israel. Even though Brazil supported the troublesome resolution approved by UNESCO’s Executive Board last October, the Ministry issued a communiqué stating that unless the text is revised, Brazil will not support a similar resolution in the future. A small but positive step in the right direction. Brazil, however, supports, year after year, the three important General Assembly anti-Israel resolutions and, unfortunately, there were no changes this year.
Something very interesting happened in Mexico, a country that for many years has consistently voted against Israel at the United Nations and other international forums. President Enrique Peña Nieto traveled to Israel recently and promised that Mexico would not support the biased UNESCO resolution that was going to be put to a vote in October. His decision, however, was never transmitted by the career diplomats in the Foreign Ministry to Mexico’s new UNESCO representative, who happened to be Jewish. He cast a “yes” vote but not without protest. The local Jewish community then made its voice heard and Mexico (after trying unsuccessfully to modify its vote) decided to abstain in the plenary.
In addition, at the General Assembly, Mexico moved from “yes” to “abstain” on one of the three important resolutions, which is a pretty significant step.
Since President Tabaré Vasquez returned to Uruguay’s presidential office in March of 2015, that country’s relations with Israel made a turn for the better. Even though Vasquez belongs to the left-wing Frente Amplio party (the same party of former President Jose Mujica), he is a far more centrist leader and has interesting personal ties to Israel, as he had the opportunity to do post-doctoral studies at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot several years ago.
With regard to Uruguay’s votes at the General Assembly, like Argentina, Uruguay votes for two of the resolutions and abstains on one. There were unfortunately no changes this year.
Guatemala has given us a pleasant surprise this year. After a recent visit that President Jimmy Morales paid to Israel, during which the Israeli government pledged to support Guatemala on a number of areas, the Guatemalan U.N. representative cast a “no” vote on the three key anti-Israel resolutions, something that has no precedents in Latin America. This is a very important development and a strong sign of friendship between the two countries.
The bilateral relations between Israel and Honduras have improved considerably in the last few years. And this change has been reflected in the way Honduras votes at the U.N. This year, even though Honduras has kept its abstentions on two of the three important anti-Israel resolutions at the General Assembly, it cast a “no” vote on one of them, which is quite important.
Colombia continues to have excellent relations with Israel, even though President Santos does not have the same kind of personal ties that Former President Uribe had both with the Jewish community and Israel. Colombia has abstained on the three key anti-Israel resolutions at the UN for a number of years now and there were no changes this year.
Panama was, until now, the only Latin American country that voted “no” on one of the three key anti-Israel resolutions (the Special Committee to Investigate Human Rights Practices). This was a decision made by Former President Martinelli, who had excellent ties with Israel and the Jewish community. This year, Panama’s U.N. representative cast a “yes” vote when this resolution was put to a vote at the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee. A pretty dramatic change as it is unusual for countries to move from “no” to “yes.” The local Jewish community reached out to President Carlos Varela and this is probably why, when the resolution was taken up by the plenary, Panama abstained. Still, this move from “no” to “abstain” represents an important setback in the bilateral relations between Panama and Israel.
The current political environment is certainly favorable for the relations between Israel and Latin America to grow. And there is a lot that Israel can contribute to the countries of the region in the fields of agriculture, technology, security, science, education, etc. But Israel must ensure that the improvement of its ties with several Latin American states has a certain impact in the way these countries vote at the U.N., especially when it comes to resolutions that makes it possible for a powerful and strongly biased anti-Israel propaganda apparatus to operate under the U.N. roof.
Nov. 29, 1947 is a date the United Nations should always remember as a day of serious accomplishment of the principles on which it was founded.
This was the day Resolution 181 established the Jewish State and an Arab State.
But, in the last 40 years, the U.N. changed its own history. Every Nov. 29, the UN General Assembly celebrates the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” a shameful fabrication.
History has been erased by the U.N.
When the USSR vanished and Iran penetrated Latin America, perpetrating two terrorist attacks in Argentina (in 1992 and 1994), anti-Israeli leaders came out. First, it was Hugo Chavez, the late president of Venezuela, who was faithfully followed by his heir Nicolas Maduro. Evo Morales from Bolivia, Rafael Correa from Ecuador, Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua followed the same steps. Venezuela and Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel; Chavez cursed Israel and other Latin American presidents did the same. Even a president who did not break relations with Israel took the opportunity to curse it: Jose Mujica, the former president of Uruguay, said that “Israel was perpetrating a genocide in Gaza (2014)” and anti-Semitism came out in Uruguay as it was never known before.
In this frame of anti-Semitism, hidden behind the mask of anti-Israelism, it is not surprising that Horacio Sevilla Borja, the Ecuadorean ambassador to the U.N., equated Israel with Nazism last week on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It is not only the Iranian style of Jewish hatred but also the Jewish hatred experienced in several Latin American countries over the last decade.
Sevilla Borja said: “We repudiate with all our strength the persecution and genocide that in its time unleashed Nazism against the Hebrew people. But I cannot remember anything more similar in our contemporary history than the eviction, persecution and genocide that today imperialism and Zionism do against the Palestinian people”.
On Monday, Dec. 5, Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned Ecuadorian embassy’s third secretary, Enrique Ponce, for an “urgent meeting,” to protest Sevilla’s remarks.
Diplomatically, this is what Israel has to do and can do.
But let´s clarify a little more. Sevilla Borja is not a newcomer in diplomacy. He has been an ambassador in Latin American and European countries. He has been serving Ecuador a long time in the international field. He is a very distinguished and awarded lawyer and professor in international law.
The decision to equate Israel with Nazi Germany is a perverse diplomatic action which was carefully thought out before it was said. It was not his personal decision but a decision of the Foreign Ministry of Ecuador. Clearly, he spoke on behalf of his country. And he, of course, agreed to relay this message, full of hatred and incitement.
We do not know if Ecuador is going to excuse itself. If it does not, it would be much more sincere than if it does. The spreading of Jewish hatred has not diminished. During the 2014 Gaza war, the accusations against Israel in the region came from unions, academia, the media, but first were presidents like Rafael Correa, among others.
Ambassador Sevilla Borja is to be blamed. He expressed his hateful message because he believed in it. But let´s not stop with the messenger. His statement has not been an exception or an accident. It has been the result of policies of hatred which will not stop. Not soon, at least.
Promoting Education And Anti-Discrimination Legislation: Two Important Ways To Combat Anti-Semitism And Other Forms Of Bigotry Globally
The Case of a Small City in Argentina
A few weeks ago, there was an anti-Semitic incident in the city of Bariloche, a major tourist destination in the southwestern part of Argentina. It is common for Argentine students to travel there when they graduate from high school.
A group of Jewish students from the ORT School in Buenos Aires were at a disco when they started to receive insults from another group of students, from a German School, who were wearing swastikas and Hitler costumes. The students from ORT alerted the managers of the disco but nobody took the appropriate measures and, therefore, there was apparently a fight between the two groups.
Officials from the city apologized later on and the German school took appropriate disciplinary measures. But the incident sparked a number of other of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the country.
One of them happened in my hometown, Salta, a relatively small city in the northwestern part of the country. Carlos Paz, the ombudsman of a district called Cerrillos, allegedly posted an outrageous anti-Semitic message on his Facebook page, stating:
"Sh***y Jews, I am tired of them, always appearing as the victim. They are the ones that segregate millions of Palestinians, build walls, have racist laws, murder and advise terrorist organizations and murderous States, like they did with Apartheid South Africa. Now they are judging young people for wearing German clothes from WWII. And we cannot even say ‘sh***y Jew’ because we are labeled as racists and human garbage…”
The post went on to imply that the 1994 terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish center was a self-inflicted attack and that the Jews want people to believe Iran was responsible. The message ended again with the phrase "sh***y Jews, I am tired of them," and was accompanied by several articles, one of them stating that the Holocaust was a lie.
Paz is not only the ombudsman of the district but also teaches philosophy at several local high schools.
Fortunately, INADI, the country’s agency that combats discrimination, xenophobia and racism (created after the AMIA bombing) acted immediately and joined the local Jewish community in its denunciation of the incident. Several government officials strongly condemn the incident as well.
As a result, the ombudsman is now suspended from his position and will apparently face an impeachment process through the local legislature. He was also suspended from his teaching positions and is facing criminal charges (because of an existing anti-discrimination law).
Independently of what ends up happening with this particular person (who is now orchestrating a pretty clever defense by stating that his Facebook account was hacked), it is important to note the swift and positive measures that the local government, the judiciary and the nation’s anti-discrimination agency took. Some years ago, an incident like this would have not generated such a strong response, particularly in a city like Salta, a small and traditional place where anti-Semitic manifestations were not at all uncommon.
There are three factors that, in my opinion, contributed to these very positive developments. The first one is the anti-discrimination law that the Argentine Parliament passed back in 1988, which has gradually become more widely known and used. The second one is the creation of INADI, in 1995, which has not only played a key role at creating awareness among the general population about the need to combat all forms of discrimination and intolerance, but also expanded the use of the existing anti-discrimination law in a considerable way. And the last factor is Argentina’s decision to join the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2002. Until then, the Holocaust was either absent in the curricula of most schools or studied in a very tangential way.
As this case shows, anti-discrimination laws can play a very important role in the fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance. Anti-Semites and bigots of all kinds will continue to exist but these laws can certainly force them to watch what they do and limit the negative effects that their hateful acts can have in society.
In this regard, it is worth noting that B’nai B’rith International has long advocated for the approval of anti-discrimination legislation in many countries throughout the region, working in conjunction with other minorities and vulnerable groups. And—at the hemispheric level—B’nai B’rith has worked for many years at the Organization of American States to make the approval of two major Inter-American anti-discrimination conventions a reality.
The other—and perhaps most important—tool in the fight against bigotry is, of course, education. And B’nai B’rith can be proud of its work in this field as well. Our districts and units across Latin America have not only advocated for the passing of legislation that makes Holocaust education mandatory in schools but also played a very active role in promoting educational programs that teach respect for diversity and human rights. As the case of Salta demonstrates, this is definitely something worth continuing.
Dilma Rousseff has to leave the Brazilian presidency. A Senate majority vote of 61 to 20, no abstentions, ousted her under the accusation that she “used illegal means to hide holes in the federal budget, exacerbated a recession and high inflation.” The impeachment procedure established under Brazilian law ended with her second term as president.
Another vote to ban Rousseff to participate in elections and be elected was defeated, so if she wants she could be a candidate in 2019.
Michel Temer, acting president during the time the impeachment has lasted, became the formal Brazilian president on Aug. 31, and his term will end on Jan. 1, 2019.
Rousseff, who was imprisoned during the country’s dictatorship in the 1960s, said she broke no laws, and argued that she was forced to make tough choices on the budget in the face of declining revenues, and accused that her problem was the refusal by opponents in Congress to work with her.
Rousseff had sharp words on Monday for her former vice president, Temer, who took over when she was suspended and will finish the term as president. She called him a “usurper” and “racist.” Temer, whose family is from Christian Lebanese origin, is trying to face the very difficult economic situation Brazil is going through with high rates of unemployment and inflation.
A large number of members of Congress and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have been implicated in a number of corruption scandals. It is another front that Temer has to face. Watchdog groups estimate 60 percent of the 594 lawmakers in both chambers are being investigated for wrongdoing, many for corruption.
Rousseff and her predecessor Lula Da Silva ruled Brazil for more than a decade. Together with former Presidents Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina; Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela; Rafael Correa in Ecuador; Evo Morales in Bolivia; the Castros´ in Cuba; and Jose Mujica in Uruguay (2005-2010), there was created a wide net of populist governments, which engaged with Iran and utterly anti-Israel and anti-American.
Today the political map has changed. Argentina voted for another type of ruling when they elected Mauricio Macri last year; Rousseff has been ousted by impeachment; Venezuela is economically and politically ruined; Cuba is trying to approach the United States and Uruguay changed in last year´s election for a most moderate leftist like Tabare Vazquez for president.
These changes have created a serious political division in the region.
Presidents like Temer, Macri, Horacio Cartes (Paraguay) have joined the new President of Peru Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia to face and reject the violent populism of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
With regard to Israel, it once again has democratic governments in Latin America with which to deal, to conduct business and to receive proper designation as the only democratic country in the Middle East.
The immediate future of Brazil is still uncertain. The economic crisis is the most important challenge that Temer has to face. If Brazil gets some improvements in its economy, the region will feel relieved and democracy will have a better chance to be sustainable.
Populist Presidents like Maduro and Morales have accused the Brazilian Congress of attempting a coup against Rousseff. That is absurd, legally speaking, because impeachment is a procedure established in the Brazilian constitution, and there has been no shadow of any coup. On the other hand, the confrontation between democracies and populists will go deeper, so not only the political relations will suffer, but the economic links too.
This is “the framework of uncertainty” for the immediate future in Brazil and its neighbors. Time is of the essence, so we will have to wait no less than until the end of the year to watch if Brazil can recover, and if the dangerous instability in Venezuela does not create another regional unrest.
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.
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