By: Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Who is responsible for the absence of the enormous potentials of more than 600 thousand Palestinians in South America for the past 26 years, precisely since the 1993 Oslo Accords?!
Large Palestinian communities in around 14 countries, all full of love for Palestine, and full of potentials… Ministers, parliamentarians, influentials, wealthy individuals in businesses, industry and agriculture…where a sincere effort, albeit modest, can be a milestone and bring about a qualitative leap in supporting the Palestine issue in South America, and on the international level. However, it seems that the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) doesn’t work!!
A Success Story and Distinguished Potentials
Palestinian refugees and Palestinian communities in South America are concentrated in Chile. There are no available accurate statistics of them, however, estimates indicate that there are no less than 300 thousand Chileans, 100 thousand Salvadoreans, 70–80 thousand Hondurans, and 50 thousand Brazilians of Palestinian descent. In addition, there are important communities in Argentina, Peru, Nicaragua, Colombia, Guatemala and others. Most Palestinians there are originally from Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.
Palestinians, especially in Chile, enjoy advanced economic, social and political conditions and have important influence on public life. For example, Francisco Chahuán, who is a senator (2010–present), and the most voted parliamentarian at the national level (2017); José Said, who owns the largest real estate company in Chile and Argentina; Salvador Said, who is one of the richest men in South America, has investments in real estate, banks, energy and agriculture; Álvaro Saieh Bendeck, who is Chile’s fourth richest person and the Chairman of the Board of CorpGroup; Alberto Kassis, who controls 40% of the processed meat market in Chile. In addition, there are some prominent Palestinians like Anwar Makhlouf and Maurice Khamis, in addition to pro-Palestine activists.
In El Salvador, there was Schafik Jorge Handal (1930–2006), the general secretary of the Communist Party of El Salvador and presidential candidate in 2004, Antonio Saca, the former president of El Salvador (2004–2009), and Nayib Bukele, the current President of El Salvador.
In Honduras, there was Miguel Facussé 1924–2015, one of the wealthiest in the country, and one of its three most powerful men; and Fredy Antonio Nasser, who is the head of the Terra Group, which controls the oil trade in Honduras.
In Brazil, Omar Aziz was elected a governor of the state of Amazonas in 2010; in Guatemala, Jorge Briz Abularach, who was the foreign minister 2004–2006; and in Peru, Omar Karim Chehade, who was the second vice president of Peru 2011–2012. (For more see the article of Khalid Bashir at the site of Hafryat, 15/11/2018).
Some estimates indicate that there are around 600 millionaires of Palestinian descent in Brazil and Chile.
And when you walk through the streets of Chile, you will find in many places the smell and taste of Palestine. Besides, you will find the “Club Palestino” (The Palestinian Club), one of the most famous Palestinian establishments in South America; and you will find the “Club Deportivo Palestino,” one of the most famous football clubs in Chile.
Working for Palestine and the Responsibility of the PLO
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was one of the first active organizations in South America. In 1975, the PLO opened its first offices in Brazil, then in Cuba 1976, then in Chile 1979. It sponsored the establishment of the Palestinian Confederation of Latin America and the Caribbean (Confederación Palestina Latinoamericana y del Caribe— COPLAC), and three conferences were held in 1984, 1987 and 1993. Then, this PLO activity (As with all of its other activities and organizations) entered into “clinical death,” Palestinians abroad were increasingly ignored and neglected, and the frustration and annoyance with the organization and its leadership has also escalated.
Around three years ago, a number of South American community leaders wanted to revitalize Palestinian activity, for they gave up on the weakness and indifference of the PLO and the PA. They held a meeting on 6–8/1/2017 in Santiago, Chile, where 14 community representatives participated.
Subsequently, the PLO’s Palestinian Expatriate Affairs Department (PEAD) “returned to life,” trying to hold the reins again. Since the Palestinians of South America were open to the “the nation as a whole,” and they wanted to serve their country, people and cause, away from factionalism, partisanship and division, they cooperated with the PLO and the PA. However, the PA leadership was very dominant, it did not want a genuine, transparent and democratic community elections to take place, neither did it want a COPLAC Conference to be held on valid representation bases, rather it turned its back to the understandings with community activists.
On 24/5/2017, President ‘Abbas issued a decree making PEAD part of the PA’s Foreign Ministry, and consequently Palestinian activities declined, since the PA’s actions are limited by the presence of the occupation and its domination, whereas the PLO was supposed to be better able to represent the Palestinians at home and abroad. What made things worse is that the COPLAC leaders (as its Secretary General Hanna Safieh spoke) were surprised by the call of Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki asking them to side with the organization against Hamas!! These differences disabled the conference and postponed it, when Safieh stated that “the serious level of intervention in our affairs was too much to take”!!
It seems that the fear of democratic elections, Hamas, and the emergence of the Oslo opponents have made the PA arbitrarily appoint community representatives according to their loyalty, a matter that made the prominent community leaders on 13–16/6/2019 hold the first constituent conference in Latin America and the Caribbean, in San Salvador in El Salvador.
There they announced the founding of the Palestinian Union of Latin America (Unión Palestina de América Latina—UPAL) that would represent the Palestinian communities. The new Union presented a balanced national discourse, commensurate with the political environment there; It emphasized the importance of national unity, rejected division, recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative, emphasized the importance of the Palestinian fundamentals, demanded exiting the Oslo Accords, and stressed upon the right of return and its support of the resistance on the basis of international law.
Neither the PLO leadership nor the PA’s welcomed the establishment of UPAL, rather they launched a ferocious campaign against it, where PEAD considered it an “attempt to dissent,” and the PA’s Foreign Ministry considered the conference holders a bunch of “poseurs,” using the descriptions of “infiltrators” and “hired agents”!! This is despite the fact that the conference did not offend anyone and affirmed the PLO’s legitimacy; and that its organizers have broad institutional representation and recognized national roles; where they came from 11 countries. Among those are four members of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), out of which three became members of the new democratically elected governing body.
The leadership of the PLO and the PA should have had—after 26 years of negligence and indifference—the minimum responsibility and give way to the Palestinian communities to organize themselves…rather than using its acquisition of “legitimacy” to monopolize “disruption”. It should not use national institutions to empty the national action of its contents.
Obstacles and Challenges
Palestinian activity in Southern America faces a number of obstacles, including:
1. The far distance, and the difficulty and high costs of travel to South America.
2. Lack of competent activists dealing with the Palestine issue in South America.
3. The language barrier, where the main languages are either Spanish, or Portuguese in Brazil, while most of the literature and communication tools on the Palestine issue are in Arabic or English.
4. The peace process and its negative impact on Palestinian communities abroad, as they were neglected after the Oslo Accords, and the subsequent decline of PLO’s role.
5. The Palestinian division and fragmentation, which negatively affected Palestinians everywhere.
However, the political, economic, social and media successes of the Palestinians in South America, if given due attention, can turn into wonderful international successes of the Palestine issue and its just cause.
This article was originally published in Arabic on TRT Arabic “trt.net.tr/arabic” on 27/8/2019.