Latin America: protests against Israeli attacks

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, which "covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990." Write to wnu@igc.org for a free one-month subscription.

We sometimes forget how many people of Lebanese and Palestinian descent live in Latin America, including the current president Elias Antonio Saca of El Salvador -- who has sent troops to Iraq and is being condemned by his compatriots "for not condemning the aggression." And the Lebanese-Colombian Shakira (left), who is condemning it -- though that's probably not what she was doing in this photo.

Thousands of people demonstrated across Latin America the week of July 17 to protest Israel's air and ground attacks in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip starting the week before.

About 500 protesters rallied on July 17 outside the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in a demonstration organized by Argentine Arab associations, leftist groups and activist organizations, including the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Anibal Veron piquetero ("picketer") organization of the poor and unemployed. "Today the state of Israel is applying state terrorism and a plan for extermination the way the [1976-1983] Argentine dictatorship did," Confederation of Arab Entities of Argentina vice president Roberto Ahuad told the French news service AFP.

The protest came the day before the anniversary of the still unsolved July 18, 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA), in which at least 85 people were killed and 300 were injured; this was the worst antisemitic terror attack anywhere since World War 2. Asked if the protesters would attend the ceremonies commemorating the victims, Ahuad said: "Yes, as we do every year. We have always been with the relatives of the victims. We don't have an anti-Jewish feeling. On the contrary, there are Jews who defend our position of condemning the government of Israel." There are about 300,000 people in Argentina's Jewish community and 700,000 to one million in its Arab community. [AFP

Some 2,000 Lebanese living the Triple Border region, where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet, rallied in the Plaza of Nations in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, on July 19 to call for peace and solidarity with the people of Lebanon and Palestine. Brazilian Arab Commission in Support of the People of Lebanon president Aly Osman, whose wife and daughter managed to leave Lebanon for Syria, said the current attack on Lebanon
was the worst ever. "Not even the 1982 invasion [by Israel] was this cruel," he said.

"They say there are terrorists in the Triple Border," Manuel Rocha, Catholic bishop of Foz do Iguacu, told the protesters while a Paraguayan police agent in plain clothes filmed the demonstration. "We are the terrorists of peace, of hope," the bishop said. The Triple Border region has one of the highest concentrations of Lebanese and other Arabs in the world. Some 500 Triple Border residents are currently trapped in Lebanon, and two adults and three children from Foz do Iguacu have been
killed by Israeli bombardments in southern Lebanon. [La Nacion (Paraguay) 7/20/06]

In Mexico, supporters of The Other Campaign of the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) held a rally at the US embassy in Mexico City on July 19 in solidarity with the people of Lebanon and Palestine. The protest followed a rally at the federal Attorney General's Office (PGR), also on the Reforma avenue, to protest the mistreatment and illegal detention of activists in San Salvador Atenco and Texcoco on May 3-4 [see Updates #849, 853]. Speakers noted the importance of
international solidarity protests, saying that rallies outside Mexico in May had helped get word out about the repression at Atenco. One speaker charged that Israel trains elite groups in Mexico's Federal Preventive Police (PFP) and the Federal Investigation Agency. The protesters announced plans for another demonstration at the US embassy on July 29. [Chiapas Indymedia 7/19/06]

On July 20 members of Mexico's Lebanese community rallied outside the UN's Mexico City offices to call for a ceasefire in Lebanon. They then went to the Lebanese embassy, where they placed roses in an urn and held a minute of silence. Francisco Jammal, former president of the Lebanese Center, said Mexico's effort to evacuate Mexicans from Lebanon was "enormous." [La Opinion (Los Angeles) 7/21/06 from AP] Mexico organized a convoy to evacuate 121 Mexicans and one Guatemalan from Beirut to
Istambul, Turkey. [La Nacion (Paraguay) 7/19/06]

In Venezuela some 2,000-3,000 people marched to the Israeli embassy in eastern Caracas on July 20 to deliver a document protesting Israel's actions. Carrying Lebanese and Palestinian flags and photographs of children killed or injured in the attacks, marchers chanted "Murderers!" and slogans against the US and burned an Israeli flag. Many protesters were of Lebanese or Palestinian origin. About 400,000 Venezuelans are Lebanese or of Lebanese origin. The Foreign Ministry is trying to
evacuate 400 Venezuelans from the Middle East. President Hugo Chavez Frias has harshly criticized Israel and the US for the attacks. [El Universal (Caracas) 7/20/06 from AFP]

Representatives of Salvadoran social, political and religious organizations demonstrated in front of the Israeli embassy in San Salvador on July 20 to protest what they called the "terrorist escalation against the people of Palestine" and to criticize Salvadoran president Elias Antonio Saca, who is of Palestinian origin, "for not condemning the aggression." Jhon Nasser, from the Friends of Palestine
Association, also condemned the United Nations (UN), "which is showing total indifference to these massacres." Legislative deputy Carlos Castaneda of the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) announced that he was going to ask the Legislative Assembly to issue a public condemnation of "the policy of extermination." [La Opinion 7/21/06 from AP]

Castaneda was also trying to engineer a vote against Saca's plan to send another rotation of 380 Salvadoran soldiers to participate in the US-led occupation of Iraq. This would be the seventh six-month rotation since El Salvador's participation began in August 2003. Saca announced his decision to send the troops on July 19, at the same time that he announced the death of Sgt. Jose Miguel Sanchez Perdomo on July 18 in Al Kut, Wasit province, in Iraq. Sanchez Perdomo was killed by an explosive
device. He is the third soldier from the Salvadoran forces killed inIraq. One was killed by insurgents in April 2004 [see Update #741], and another died in a highway accident in June 2005. El Salvador is the only Latin American country with troops in Iraq. [La Nacion (Costa Rica) 7/19, 7/20/06 from ACAN-EFE, La Prensa Grafica (El Salvador) 7/20/06]

About 1,000 people demonstrated in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, on July 21 to protest the attacks in Lebanon. The protesters--many carrying Lebanese flags and photographs of relatives in Lebanon or of victims of the violence--chanted "Israel out!" and called for Mercosur, a trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, to end commercial ties with Israel. "We need for Brazil to help Palestine and Lebanon to end this war," Sheikh Kamal Yahya of the local Santo Amaro mosque told the government news agency Agencia Brasil. According to the Foreign Ministry, at least seven Brazilians have been killed in the attacks in Lebanon; an estimated 70,000-200,000 Brazilians live there, most of them Lebanese who lived in Brazil and became citizens but later returned to Lebanon. The government has sent at least two of the Air Force's Boeing 707s to start evacuating 1,000 Brazilians from
Beirut, Damascus and Amman. [Europa Press via Yahoo Argentina 7/21/06]

A dozen people demonstrated at the Plaza Israel in Guatemala City on July 22 to protest the bombing of Lebanon. According to Associated Press, no members of the Arab community participated. [El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 7/22/06 from AP]

About 600 Lebanese and Colombians of Lebanese origin marched in Bogota on July 23 from the Club Colombo-Libanes to a UN office, where they handed over a communique. The document condemned Israel's "unilateral and disproportionate attack" and warned of a "humanitarian catastrophe," according to a spokesperson for the march, Mario Helo. [La Cronica de Hoy (Mexico) 7/23/06 from EFE]

On July 21 the popular Colombian rock singer Shakira Mebarak Ripoll, on tour in Europe, called on "the leaders of the US and of the world's great powers to stop this war, since we all know they could stop it. We want something better for our children, for the children of Colombia, the children of Israel, the children of Palestine, the children of Lebanon, the children of the world." Shakira is of Lebanese origin on her father's side. [AFP 7/22/06]

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