Israeli–Latin American Relations

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Israeli–Latin American Relations

During the first United Nations debates on Palestine in 1947, democratic and liberal Latin American regimes generally supported the creation of a Jewish state in parts of that territory, while conservative Catholic governments took a reserved attitude. Thus, Guatemala and Uruguay followed a marked pro-Zionist line in the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), which prepared the Partition of Palestine proposal. Eventually, thirteen out of twenty Latin American countries voted in favor of the Partition Plan in November 1947, and eighteen Latin American countries supported Israel's admission to the UN in May 1949.

Guatemala recognized Israel three days after its establishment in May 1948, and the other Latin American countries followed suit in 1948 and 1949. Peronist Argentina, which had abstained in the partition vote, was the first to open an embassy in Tel Aviv, then Israel's capital. It was followed by Brazil and Uruguay. In 1955 Guatemala set up the first Latin American representation in Jerusalem. Israel established its first diplomatic missions in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico from 1949 to 1953.

In the 1960s relations between Israel and most Latin American states flourished, due partly to Israeli agricultural aid programs. There were by then fourteen Latin American embassies in Israel (of which ten were located in Jerusalem), while the number of Israeli embassies in Latin America had risen to sixteen. The closer relations manifested themselves within international organizations. One notable setback in the relationship occurred in 1960, when Israel captured Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi officer directly responsible for implementing the genocide against European Jews, who had fled to Argentina in 1950; Israeli secret service agents smuggled him out of the country to put him on trial in Israel. Argentina protested this action to the UN, which agreed that Israel's action was illegal, but the countries ended their dispute later in the year. In the UN General Assembly in 1967, after the Six-Day War between Israel and Arab nations, the Soviet Union and nonaligned countries demanded Israel's unconditional withdrawal from the occupied territories. Twenty Latin American states then sponsored a resolution based on withdrawal, an end of belligerency, and "coexistence based on good neighborliness." The Latin American draft was defeated, but its presentation was a decisive factor in the rejection of the Soviet-nonaligned proposals and later in the formulation of Security Council Resolution 242.

In the 1970s Israeli-Latin American relations deteriorated in the wake of political changes in Latin America, such as left-wing military rule in Peru (1968–1980), the Allende government in Chile (1970–1973), the reestablishment of a Peronist regime in Argentina (1973–1976), and the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua (1979–1990). These states adhered to the nonaligned movement, of which Fidel Castro's Cuba was already a member. They were gradually followed by other left-leaning Latin American countries. From the 1960s to the 1980s, fifteen new Caribbean states emerged which, because of ethnic ties, felt close to Africa and to Third World ideologies. The result was significant Latin American participation in international political and economic alignments that pursued anti-Israeli policies. By contrast, because of Central American governments' support for the creation of a Jewish state in the 1930s and 1940s, Israel maintained a strong relationship with these countries. During the 1980s the United States used Israel as a conduit to provide money to military governments in Central America faced with insurgencies and the Contras in Nicaragua.

The oil crises of 1973–1974 and 1979, which severely affected the Latin American economies, created a dependence on the cartel known as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its Arab members. Brazil turned pro-Arab, while oil-producing Latin American states like Venezuela, Ecuador, and Mexico strengthened their relationships with Arab OPEC countries.

In several Latin American states there was also an awakening of political consciousness among the population of Arab origin (about 3 million persons, as compared to fewer than half a million Jews). All this led to the growth of diplomatic relations between Latin American and Arab states and the opening of Palestine Liberation Organization embassies and offices in Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, and Bolivia. In the UN in 1975, five Latin American and Caribbean states (Brazil, Cuba, Guyana, Grenada, and Mexico) supported Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism and questioned the moral ground for Israel's existence. Ten Latin American countries voted against the resolution and eleven abstained. By the 1980s some countries such as Mexico, and to a lesser extent Argentina, Brazil, and Peru, routinely supported anti-Israeli resolutions.

The change in the UN also affected bilateral relations. In 1980, after Israel had adopted a law declaring Jerusalem as its capital, the Security Council called on all states whose diplomatic missions were located in Jerusalem to "withdraw them from the Holy City." In consequence all twelve Latin American embassies in Jerusalem were transferred to Tel Aviv. (Costa Rica returned its embassy to Jerusalem in 1982, and El Salvador did the same in 1984.) Three Latin American states broke diplomatic relations with Israel: Cuba in 1973, Guyana in 1974, and Nicaragua in 1982. Nevertheless, the Israeli diplomatic network in Latin America continued to grow, and in the early 1990s Israel had eighteen embassies in Latin America and hosted seventeen Latin American missions. Significant developments included the visits of President Chaim Herzog to Argentina in 1990 and of President Carlos Menem to Israel in 1991. In 1990 Israel maintained technical assistance missions in several Central American and Caribbean countries and hosted about 600 trainees each year from Latin America. In 1992 Islamic Jihad, which had established a cell in Argentina, bombed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 and injuring 242. This bombing remains the deadliest attack on an Israeli diplomatic mission.

Israeli-Latin American trade relations were always of secondary importance. In 1990 Israeli exports to Latin America reached $98 million (not including classified military exports and oil supplies), and Israeli imports from there amounted to $43 million.

See alsoAllende Gossens, Salvador; Arab-Latin American Relations; Perón, Juan Domingo; United Nations.


Edy Kaufman, Yoram Shapira, and Joel Barromi, Israel-Latin American Relations (1979).

Additional Bibliography

Bahbah, Bishara, and Linda Butler. "Israel and Latin America: The Military Connection." London: Macmillan, 1986.

Klich, Ignacio, and Jeff Lesser, eds. Arab and Jewish Immigrants in Latin America: Images and Realities. London and Portland, OR: F. Cass, 1998.

Metz, Allan. "Israeli Military Assistance to Latin America." Latin American Research Review 28, no. 2 (1993): 257-263.

                                                  Joel Barromi