Many of the United States’ Southern neighbors have taken an aggressively anti-Israel stance on the Israel-Palestine crisis in the Middle East. The philosophical implications of their alignment must be recognized and arrested before their influence spreads across the Western Hemisphere.
In the wake of Hamas’ terrorist attacks in Israel, the governments of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, and Cuba directly issued support to Hamas, blaming Israel’s occupation of Palestine as just provocation for the group’s indiscriminate violence. Colombia threatened to suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel, with President Gustavo Petro calling Israel “genocidal” and comparing it to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Even Mexico and Brazil expressed neutrality without explicitly calling out Hamas.
These antics show that the United States stands at significant risk of losing a historical pro-Israel coalition in its hemisphere. Repressive regimes supporting terrorist groups threaten the United States’ commercial and security interests at home and abroad.
Many leftist Latin American governments make a point to align themselves with repressive groups and regimes to separate themselves from the influence of Western—particularly U.S.—ideology. That is why the governments in Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and others have felt the need to support mass murderers like Che Guevara, Vladimir Putin, FARC, Hezbollah, and now Hamas, who use the excuse of anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism to justify terrorism and brutality. If America is serious about promoting liberal values and its partnership with Israel, it should start in its own backyard.
The United States has a vested interest in preventing more support for Hamas in the Western Hemisphere. Hamas and Hezbollah themselves are threatening U.S. commercial and security interests in South America through their involvement in drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and human trafficking in ungoverned spaces. The United States is already attempting to curtail these illicit activities to the tune of billions of taxpayer dollars per year. As more nations take up Hamas’ cause, this will become even more costly.
This trendy alignment with brutal actors reflects a perverted version of Global South populism, which, at its core, was aimed at promoting legitimate self-determination, democratic governance, and the rights of everyone in the Global South. Through legitimate popular resistance against foreign invaders, Global South populism gave rise to independence movements, strong representative democracies despite U.S. military interventions, and security reforms centered on human rights.
In solidarity against the perceived imperialism of Western ideals, many nations in the Global South have fallen for the rhetoric of nominally heterodox groups and regimes like Hamas, Iran, and Russia, who are themselves committing atrocities against their own people. These leaders have taken the noble cause of self-determination and non-alignment to such an extreme that they willingly support abusive regimes and organizations.
We saw this during the Cold War when governments and revolutionary groups opposing American imperialist campaigns, including in Cuba, Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Grenada, and Nicaragua, sided directly with the Soviet Union. These governments feel solidarity with Palestine as they have their own history of fighting imperialism and have used violence to fight for independence. In response to these nations’ hatred for Israeli and Western foreign policy, the U.S. should promote a rational and nuanced approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict, without caving to tribal politics and giving them legitimate reasons for grievance.
Although the excessive evil of Hamas’ actions against Israeli civilians cannot—and must not—be ignored, Western nations should recognize the reasons other nations would side with Hamas. Israel itself has pursued brutal and excessive policies against Palestine, and current leaders in Israel are themselves making peace and Palestinian self-determination less likely. In the case of Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, it could also be argued that these terrorist groups and regimes are their only remaining allies, forcing them to offer support no matter the context. The three countries have been completely isolated by the West for decades.
Based on the history of anti-semitism within those regimes, however, it would be a mistake to completely dismiss their ideological sympathy for Hamas. Maduro, the Venezuelan dictator, has repeatedly used “Zionism” as a scapegoat for his own failures, accusing his political enemies of being “controlled by Zionism.” Maduro also has no problem associating with figures, including Hamas and Hezbollah, using blatant anti-semitic sentiment. All three dictatorial regimes have enjoyed close ties with the Iranian regime, which has made the “eradication of Israel and its Zionist regime” a key tenet of its government through funding Hamas and Hezbollah.
The region might soon be populated with more regimes with a #resistance streak and a penchant for supporting autocrats and terrorist groups in the name of populism. Despite ultimately losing in the second round, the leading candidate for most of the presidential election in Ecuador, held on October 15, had aligned herself with former president Rafael Correa, who himself condemned “Israeli genocide against Palestine.” Elections in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, and Uruguay in 2024 could also be at risk of bringing in new leadership that fits with this new ideological movement on the left.
Ideas and rhetoric have material consequences, and they should be countered before they create more regimes that promote the interests of terrorist groups. To prevent this from happening and to push these countries to forcefully condemn Hamas and oppressive regimes, the West should do two things: use its diplomatic and communications channels to publicly and privately call out these horrific statements and policies directly, without equivocation, and use all means at its disposal, including targeted sanctions, to exercise economic and diplomatic pressure on the governments, providing them an incentive to ditch their position.
Joseph Bouchard is a freelance journalist covering geopolitics in Latin America. His articles have appeared in The Diplomat, Mongabay, The National Interest, East Asia Forum, and Responsible Statecraft. He is a Young Voices contributor and an MIA candidate at Carleton University in Ottawa. He tweets at @GeopolWonk.