Latin American Reactions to the Israel-Hamas War

At the end of October, the Bolivian government became one of the first countries to completely sever diplomatic ties with Israel. This shift occurred in response to Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza which began after the Hamas attacks on October 7. The South American country previously cut ties with Israel in 2009 due to the state’s behavior regarding Gaza, but this was reversed and ties were reestablished in 2020. Bolivia is simply the most extreme in a wave of policies critical of Israel adopted throughout Latin America. 

Chile and Colombia joined Bolivia in condemning what they called a disproportionate military offensive on the part of Israel, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinian citizens, and recalled their ambassadors. Other countries, including Mexico and Brazil, have called for a ceasefire in the region. Most recently, Belize suspended relations with Israel.

Israel has critiqued these decisions, with Lior Haiat, Israel’s Foreign Minister, asking countries such as Chile and Colombia to “support the right of a democratic country to protect its citizens, and to call for the immediate release of all the abductees, and not align themselves with Venezuela and Iran in support of Hamas terrorism.” 

The prevalence of Latin American policies taking a stand against Israel’s actions in Gaza is counter to the positions of many western countries, including the United States. It is also a stark change in regional policy. Prior to the current humanitarian crisis, Latin America, and the Western Hemisphere as a whole, had close ties to Israel, spanning from economic agreements to technological cooperation.

Why is Israel’s war so unpopular in Latin America? Why have Latin American leaders swarmed to support Palestinians? 

The answer is complicated, but some understanding can be garnered by looking back to historical experiences with imperialism throughout the region and addressing the so-called “pink tide” of leftist leaders rising to power in countries such as Brazil and Columbia. 

Latin America, as a region, has time and again experienced imperialist and colonialist powers meddling in domestic affairs and infringing on their sovereignty. Sensitivity to these issues dates back to Spanish colonization in the region and has continued due to U.S. imperialistic and paternalistic behavior toward Latin America during the 20th century, especially throughout the Cold War. In many cases, these historical experiences led to institutional deficiencies and instabilities in these countries, allowing authoritarian rule to propagate. From colonization to independence to U.S. intervention, Latin American countries were often left with systems that benefited the wealthy elite, concentrating power and increasing inequality. 

Colonization left Latin America scarred, as Latin America expert and prior Literary Director of the Library of Congress Marie Arana says, “Absolute power still beguiled. New republics became as oppressive, insular, and isolated as Spain had encouraged its colonies to be. Latin America’s culture of violence . . . seemed to morph, almost overnight, into a culture of intimidation, with the landed gentry acquiring an ever sharper aptitude for cruelty, and a pumped-up military that never seemed to stand down.” Latin Americans have been fighting to change these inheritances ever since. Still, U.S. imperialism efforts often took advantage of systemic weaknesses, pursuing regime changes that removed leftist, non-capitalist leaders, often replacing them with right-wing extremists. Both colonization and U.S. imperialism left Latin America with an intimate familiarity with the perils associated with the rule of political radicals, from Augusto Pinochet to Porfirio Díaz. 

It is likely that these historical wounds are part of the explanation for Latin America’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause and anger towards human rights violations conducted by Israel. Violent revolutions freed many Latin American countries first from colonialism, and then from dictatorships. As a result, it follows that this region would be sensitive to a potentially imperialistic relationship between Israel and Palestine, especially once the situation turned to state-sanctioned violence against civilians.

The other potential explanation is the new rise of leftism within Latin America. The region is currently seeing a swell in the election of leftist leaders, who often lean towards supporting Palestine rather than Israel. The newly developed leftist bloc in Latin America includes Brazil, Columbia, Mexico, Peru and Chile, with some autocratic leftists in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba.

Indigenous Latin Americans, who are often supportive of leftist governments, understandably empathize with the plight of displacement facing the Palestinians, having been continually displaced themselves. This has led to progressive movements in the region seeing Israel and Palestine as an issue of decolonization

Leftists in Latin America also have little reason to support U.S. policy in any regard. During the first pink tide in the 1970s, the CIA was undeniably responsible for removing leftist governments that did not fall in line with U.S. Cold War goals. In some cases, this led to the installation of right-wing authoritarians who agreed to stifle the spread of communism and subscribe to U.S. capitalist beliefs. Overall, this left a number of Latin American countries facing “significant declines in freedom of expression, civil liberty, and rule of law.”

Despite these experiences, there are some countries in Latin America that support Israel. Specifically, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Peru, all countries with right-wing governments, immediately expressed their strong support for Israel. President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador, infamous for his extreme crackdown on gangs and gang violence which has drawn wide criticism for humanitarian violations, likened Israel’s fight against Hamas to El Salvador’s fight against gangs. 

Latin America is not a monolith, and differing domestic contexts have clearly affected the overall perspective held by each nation. It is also pertinent to note that some of these policies may be affected by international contexts, as those who rely on countries such as the United States economically or otherwise may be less likely to come out against Israel, meaning countries with larger, more independent economies have more freedom in policy. 

While a divide exists within the region on this issue, the high levels of support for Palestine are altogether unsurprising when one considers the historical scars of colonialism and imperialism that continue to mar Latin American communities, institutions and governments.


Mia Prange

Mia Prange is a junior studying International Relations with a minor in Art History. Raised in a politically passionate family, Mia has always had a passion for politics and global affairs. She is interested in reporting on issues such as women’s rights, LGBTQ+ movements, and the climate crisis, and on areas including Latin America and the Middle East. At USC, Mia is also involved with the renowned Model UN team, the pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta, and USC’s branch of the feminist organization Women and Youth Supporting Each Other (WYSE).