VALDIVIA, CHILE – Last Tuesday, in the wake of recent victories for the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement elsewhere in Latin America, Valdivia, a relatively small city in southern Chile, became the first city in all of Latin America to officially join the boycott against Israel for its apartheid policies, military occupation of the West Bank and illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. The vote to adopt the boycott at the city level was taken unanimously by the local government after the initiative was personally introduced by the city’s mayor, Omar Sabat, who is of Palestinian descent.
The measure adopted by the city specifically declares the municipality as an “Apartheid Free Zone” and prohibits the city from working with any business that benefits or is linked to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and/or Israel’s apartheid policy that targets Palestinians. According to the text of the declaration, the ban on working with such businesses will remain in effect until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine and dismantles the border wall; until Palestinians are granted fundamental human rights by the Israeli state and are treated as equals under Israeli law; and until the right of return of Palestinian refugees is granted, as stipulated by UN Resolution 194.
The initiative is similar to those adopted by several European cities. However, Valdivia is the first city to adopt the measure in all of Latin America. In addition, the decision will complement the approval of the same resolution earlier this year by the Los Ríos regional government, of which Valdivia is the capital.
Sabat told local newspaper Diario Austral that the city’s adoption of the resolution had been largely prompted by local activists and the local Arab community. He asserted that the move was above all motivated by the city’s commitment to human rights, stating:
Although we are far from this [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict physically, we are a country that condemns violence in all of its forms and, as the [local] authority, we have a responsibility to listen to our citizens and also to condemn the actions like those that take place in Palestine every day.”
Another city council member, Francisco Eguiluz, told Diario Austral that the decision was largely motivated by Israel’s recent massacres of unarmed Palestinian protesters during the Great Return March earlier this year, which saw over 13,000 Palestinians shot and nearly 200 killed over the course of the demonstrations. Among the dead were journalists, medics and several children. Eguiluz stated:
It is necessary to imagine all the atrocities that [Israel] is committing, especially the massacre of the elderly and of children; thus, we must oppose everything that this massacre means.
As a city council [in Chile], we are unable to impede what happens in Palestine, but we are able to use our grain of sand [idiom: do our part] to condemn these acts.”
A “larger project” quickened by recent Israeli violence
The local BDS campaign that helped prompt Valdivia’s local government to adopt the boycott was led by Chilean-Arab Youth for Palestine of Valdivia (Juventud Chileno-Árabe Por Palestina de Valdivia, JCAPV), which is comprised mostly of university students attending Austral University of Chile. Several politicians — including some members of the Chilean Senate, as well as local Arab community organizations — were also involved in the campaign.
Saaid Jamis-Tovar, a member of JCAPV who worked on the campaign, told MintPress that the campaign in Valdivia began in earnest earlier this year in March, in coordination with the beginning of the Great Return March in Palestine. However, he noted that the city’s adoption of the declaration was part of a larger project that seeks “to educate the community and work with the regional governments in order to initiate projects and other declarations that ask the Chilean state to end its commercial and military agreements with Israel.”
According to Jamis-Tovar, the chief consequence of the Valdivia’s support for BDS is that it gives the movement “political support as well as a legal framework for other campaigns that we are looking to start, be it an economic boycott, cultural boycott, etc. […] This decision empowers us to work on other [related] actions.” Jamis-Tovar also noted that other regional and local governments in Chile were close to adopting similar resolutions, suggesting that Valdivia is the first of what could soon become a tide of BDS victories throughout the country at the local level.
This [victory] gives us a clear indication that parts of the world community are not willing to be silent and turn a blind eye to what happens in Palestine.”
Local BDS activists, like Jamis-Tovar, hope that such victories could successfully pressure Chile’s national government to take action, such as expelling the Israeli ambassador to Chile and/or terminating the coordination between Chile’s Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces.
From celebs to sports teams to cities: a spreading BDS wave
While the adoption of the boycott by the city of Valdivia – with a population of under 200,000 – may not seem very consequential, the decision is indicative of a recent surge of support for BDS throughout Latin America — particularly in Chile, where the BDS movement is very active thanks to the country’s large community of Palestinians, the largest such community outside of the Middle East. Chile’s Palestinian community has influenced policy decisions in the past, namely during Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, in which Chile’s government – under pressure from the Palestinian community and other advocates – expelled Israel’s ambassador from the country and also suspended free-trade negotiations with Israel.
Aside from the recent decision in Valdivia, many of the recent BDS successes in Latin America have come from celebrities and sports teams. First, in late May, Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil canceled his widely anticipated concert in Tel Aviv after Israel’s recent massacres. A week after Gil’s cancellation, Latin American pop star Shakira similarly declined to perform in Tel Aviv by indefinitely postponing her appearance in Israel and canceling her concert scheduled for July. As MintPress reported at the time, the fact that Israeli media had widely reported that Shakira had “vowed” to resist BDS-backed calls to cancel the show led the news of the concert’s postponement to be very poorly received in Israel.
The most recent BDS victory in Latin America, however, came from Argentina’s national football team, which canceled its “friendly” match with Israel prior to the beginning of the 2018 World Cup as a direct result of Israel’s apartheid policies and the recent killings of unarmed Palestinians, with team members publicly stating that canceling the match was “the right thing to do.”
MintPress subsequently reported that Israel’s Football Association (IFA) had then sought to punish Argentina’s national team by lobbying FIFA (unsuccessfully) to expel Argentina from the World Cup, in retaliation for the cancellation. The IFA had asserted that the decision taken by the Argentine team was akin to “religious discrimination.”
Given Valdivia’s recent decision to join the boycott, as well as the mounting pressure now facing other local governments in Chile and elsewhere in the region to do the same, Latin America has undeniably moved to the forefront of BDS activism, a trend that is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Top Photo | Chileans protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, outside the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile, Dec. 11, 2017. Luis Hidalgo | AP
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.