Latin Americans Have Conflicting Sentiments on Allied Gulf Efforts : Reaction: Anti-Yankee bias and Third World solidarity influence the views of some.
The Persian Gulf War has stirred up a welter of conflicting sentiments in Latin America, making it difficult for many of the region’s governments to fully support the United States and its allies.
Some Latin Americans look up to the United States and Western Europe, yearning to become part of that First World clan. In contrast, however, the Latin American view of the war is often colored by anti-Yankee bias and Third World solidarity, especially among leftists and nationalists.
Also, in some Latin American countries, citizens of Palestinian and other Arab origins command respect and exercise influence. So a pacifist stand on the Persian Gulf may be a politic stand.
And pacifism is a popular philosophy in much of Latin America, especially when applied to a distant conflict that has little direct connection to this region.
Nevertheless, some of the region’s capitals have been shaken by bomb and grenade attacks attributed to local revolutionaries who repudiate Western “imperialism” in the Persian Gulf as well as in Latin America. On Feb. 5, an explosion at the offices of a private security company contracted by the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, killed three people and wounded seven.
Latin American foreign ministers, meeting in Venezuela near the end of January, debated Gulf War issues for seven hours but failed to reach any substantive agreement.
The Mexican delegation to the meeting reportedly proposed a resolution calling for the simultaneous withdrawals of Iraq from Kuwait and coalition forces from the Gulf area, leaving responsibility for Kuwait’s security to a pan-Arab peace force. But according to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, Argentina and Venezuela rejected the proposal, refusing to go beyond expressions of support for U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Argentina, the only Latin American country directly involved in the Persian Gulf, has two warships there. But cautious Argentine policy restricts their activity to that of supplying logistic aid to the Western allies.
Tiny Costa Rica has declared its moral support for the allied decision to attack Iraq, but the traditionally pacifist Central American country has no military forces to send.
Most other countries of this region have been less clearly supportive. The policy of Brazil, Latin America’s biggest country, is a notable example of lukewarm responses south of the U.S. border.
While Brazil supported the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Brazilian authorities do not disguise their reservations about the war.
“They see no particular gains in getting involved at this point,” said Alexandre Barros, a Brazilian political risk analyst.
Until the attack against Iraq began, Brazil maintained strong commercial ties with Baghdad. The Brazilian arms industry was an important supplier to the Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq war.
If Brazil now were to adopt an aggressively hostile stance toward Iraq, Barros said, “the transition would be very difficult.” He called the Brazilian position “passive neutrality.”
Jose Vicente Pimentel, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s chief spokesman, denied that Brazil’s position is neutral. “We are strong adherents to the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council,” he said.
But Pimentel said the resolutions do not say that Brazil should send a military force to the Gulf. And Brazilian diplomacy has “a whole tradition of peaceful solutions to controversies,” he added.
The United States would like Brazil to take a stronger position in favor of the allies in the Persian Gulf. But while public opinion surveys in Brazil have shown that a majority of those polled favor the U.S. side in the war, more than 80% agree with Brazil’s “military neutrality.”
In neighboring Argentina, President Carlos Saul Menem dispatched two warships to the Gulf in August, after the invasion of Kuwait, to help enforce the U.N.-backed blockade against Iraq. After war broke out, Menem faced strong opposition to any participation by Argentine forces in the hostilities.
“Sending our soldiers to a war without principles is unjustifiable,” said Zulema Yoma, Menem’s estranged wife, who is a Muslim. The Federation of Jewish Cultural Entities, a major organization in Argentina’s large Jewish community, said that Argentine participation in the war “does not serve any of the Argentine people’s interests and compromises the future of the nation.”
Seeking congressional authorization for Argentina’s military forces to remain in the Persian Gulf after war broke out, the Menem administration sought to reduce opposition by stipulating that “they may not carry out direct bellicose action.”
Even so, both houses of Congress were sharply divided on the issue. The Senate gave its approval by a 21-14 vote while the favorable vote in the Chamber of deputies was 117-99.
A sampling of other official policies and unofficial opinion on the Persian Gulf War indicates a wide variety of often conflicting positions around Latin America:
Colombia: Gabriel Silva, President Cesar Gaviria’s adviser for international affairs, said Colombia supports the U.S. position in the war mainly because Washington “for the first time did not act unilaterally but instead sought an international political mandate.”
Nicaragua: President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro issued a statement deploring the start of allied attacks on Iraq. “It is terrible news that saddens my heart as a government leader and a mother,” she said.
Mexico: The government-owned newspaper El Nacional expressed support in an editorial for anti-war demonstrators. The demonstrators are not condoning Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, “but they think that recourse to war cannot offer a better solution than the political and commercial isolation that already had been applied against the invading country. . . .
Chile: The Chilean government officially supports the U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq but has stated that it will not send troops.
Free-lance reporter Stan Yarbro, in Colombia, contributed to this story.