Shadi Rohana recently completed a postgraduate degree at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He teaches at the Mexico City Autonomous University (UACM). A Palestinian from Haifa, he has lived in Mexico City for two years. He is also a translator, working principally with Arabic, Spanish, English and Hebrew.
This article was originally published at Al Jazeera.
And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
(…) bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood
(…) Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
This fragment of Pablo Neruda’s España en el Corazón (Spain in the Heart) was first published in Santiago de Chile in 1937 as an ode to the Republican martyrs and fighters in the war against fascism in Spain. On July 22, these words were recited in Mexico City for the opening of Gaza en elcorazón poetry reading, which was part of a series of events in solidarity with the captive Palestinian people in the Gaza.
The event was held at Casa Refugio Citlaltepetl, a cultural centre that hosts writers who have been targets of political persecution in their home countries. It brought together poets, artists and writers from Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia, Argentina, Guatemala, Iran, the United States, Switzerland and Palestine, all living in Mexico, who answered a call for “an urgent poetic action against the rampant spread of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military, and for the life and hope of a people forced to live the nightmare of war”.
Among the speakers was Sylvia Marcos, a Mexican university professor and scholar, renowned for her activism for Indigenous causes in the Americas. The granddaughter of Palestinian immigrants from the city of Bethlehem, as well as a supporter and intellectual companion of the rebellious Indigenous Zapatista movement in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, Marcos referred to the Palestinian cause and the Indigenous one in Mexico as “fraternal struggles, waged by those who were dispossessed of their lands, water, trees and lives”.
This declaration echoes the Zapatistas’s stance toward the Palestinian cause, which they have maintained since their uprising on January 1, 1994. In a recent meeting at the Realidad Trinidad community in the Lacandon Jungle, Comandante Tacho of the Zapatista National Liberation Army told representatives of 300 autonomous communities:
“We, as Indigenous [people], know very well that what occurs [in Gaza] is not a ‘conflict’, but an extermination war against the Palestinian people. When Palestinians will rise up and resist again, they will know that the Zapatista peoples, despite geographical distance, are embracing Palestinians today with our collective heart, as we have always done.”
A history of solidarity
Latin American revolutionary movements and regimes have a long tradition of solidarity, cooperation and exchange with Palestinian liberation movements. The PLO, alongside El Salvador’s Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN) and Nicaragua’s Sandinistas, among others, considered that they were fighting on the “right side of the barricade” against a common enemy from the 1960s to 1980s.
May 15 (Nakba Day) and March 30 (Palestinian Land Day) are still marked on the Latin American leftist calendar, along with July 26, Cuba’s Day of National Rebellion and Chile’s September 11.
These dates are commemorated by marches and events throughout major Latin American cities.
“Since the 1980s, the PLO used to publish a special newsletter in Mexico, which brought us fresh news and information on Palestinians’ life condition and struggle,” pointed out professor Marcos in a personal email.
She was referring to the newsletter OLP Informa (The PLO Informs), whose first edition came out in December of 1981. Back then, the PLO and its representative in Mexico, Ahmad Sobeh, ran a small office on the third floor of a simple building in the Juarez neighbourhood of downtown Mexico City.
OLP Informa‘s head editor was the Guatemalan poet Carlos Lopez, one of many Latin American writers and intellectuals who came to Mexico fleeing military dictatorships in their home countries. For Lopez, and others seeking exile in Mexico, the Palestinian cause continues to be on the forefront of the struggle against imperialism.
He recalled the straightforward style and content of the newspaper with fondness. “It was a modest black-and-white, half-letter-sized publication, in which we wanted to document the heroic struggle of the Palestinian people and their social, economic and political organisation, as well as their literature and capacity to create in the midst of the massacres,” said Lopez in a personal interview in Mexico City.
As for the relevancy of Palestine to Latin America, he said “we were also documenting Israel’s arms sales to Latin American dictatorships, especially those of Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.”
From the standpoint of Palestinian diplomacy today, 30 years after the publication of OLP Informa‘s 36th and final edition, Lopez’ words seem to be describing a past that is long gone.
The forgotten struggle
Today, the Palestinian “Special Delegation” is located in the luxurious Lomas de Chapultepec neighbourhood, along with the other embassies, as well as wealthy local and foreign businesses.
In 1993 both the PLO and the Mexican succumbed to neoliberalism. The signing of the Oslo Accords marked the PLO’s abandonment of the armed struggle and adoption of an administrative role that forced it to concede to Israeli neoliberal occupation and IMF policies and abandon its solidarity work in the Arab world, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In parallel, two months after the signing of the Oslo Accords, President Salinas de Gortari signed off on the annexation of Mexico’s economy to the United States and Canada with the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Today, Mexico is immersed in neoliberalism. Congress recently approved a series of education, labour, telecoms and energy reforms, the last being the amendment of Article 27 of the constitution, opening the country’s energy sector to private investment for the first time since petroleum was nationalised in 1938. The death toll of the US backed war on drugs continues to mount, and Central American migrants and refugees passing through Mexico are subjected to arrests, kidnapping, torture and deportation by the state and drug cartels.
With its economic dependency growing, Mexico’s long tradition of solidarity with anticolonial and antifascist struggles as part of its foreign policy has suffered a severe decline. Mexico, in the past, was on the forefront of the opposition to the fascist Italian occupation of Ethiopia, and did not hesitate to be the only country, alongside the USSR, to provide political, military and moral support to Republican Spain. Since then, however, economic dependency has moved the country’s official policy to the other side of the barricades under the guise of neutrality.
With respect to their stance on the Palestinian question, members of the Mexican government follow the US lead. Mexican officials have suggested that on the Palestinian-Israeli issue “everything passes through the [Mexican] President’s office and everything is discussed with the Mexican ambassador to the United States in Washington.”
During the recent Israeli aggression in Gaza, Latin America stood out as a place of both official and popular solidarity with the captive population in Gaza and with the Palestinian cause. Five countries – Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru – recalled their ambassadors from Tel-Aviv. Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela would have also done the same, if they had any ambassadors to withdraw.
Mexico, on the other hand, expressed its concern over the situation in Gaza and meekly called for the “resumption of talks between the two sides”.
Regardless of the government’s subservient position, popular support of the Palestinian cause is evident among the country’s social movements and on social media, where a group of Mexican university students recently released a video in which they read an Arabic translation of a 2009 speech delivered by the Zapatistas’ former Subcomandante Marcos’ in solidarity with Gaza.
(*Extract from “I’m Explaining a Few Things” translated by Nathaniel Torn, in Pablo Neruda’s Selected Poems, published by Jonathan Cape, London, 1970.)
Shadi Rohana: @srohana1