For Latin America, The Legacy of Communism Is in Its Response

On March 17 1992, a car bomb detonated outside the Israeli embassy in Argentina’s capital, killing 28 people and injuring 220. Then on July 18 1994, another explosive-laden vehicle leveled the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds – the largest Jewish loss of life outside Israel since the Second World War. Western intelligence services and the Argentine government fingered Iran for both attacks, but incompetence and incomplete investigations stalled prosecutions. 

Resolution appeared on the horizon in 2014 when the Argentine prosecutor responsible for handling the AMIA case, Alberto Nisman, announced a plan to release information implicating then-president Cristina Kirchner, among others, in a conspiracy to cover-up Iran’s involvement in the attacks. Unfortunately, Nisman was found murdered on January 15 2015, days before he was to present his findings to the Argentine parliament. His murder remains unsolved. 

What does this have to do with the legacy of Communism? The curious connection between Middle East terrorism and Latin America can partly be explained as a consequence of Cold War policies. The legacy of Communism in Argentina, and for many countries in Latin America, proved different from the stories of government tyranny and economic oppression in Eastern Europe. The legacy of Communism in Argentina can be found in its response

The threat from Communism – both real and perceived – had far-reaching consequences for Argentina. Throughout the Cold War, the South American nation made a concerted effort to resist US alignment and Soviet influence. Those non-aligned tendencies, in part, inspired President Juan Perón (1946-1955) and his “Third Position” – a foreign policy designed to harness the collective strength of the developing world through economic and political cooperation. The policy launched an unprecedented exchange with Arab states soon after the Second World War, which was helped along by Argentina having the largest Arab immigrant community in Latin America. Perón’s diplomatic efforts and the new-found interest of
foreign Arab operatives resulted in Argentina becoming one of the only Latin American nations to affirm the Arab position in the UN partition debates over the Palestine Mandate in 1947. It was also the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic relations with emerging Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia. 

The attempt to counteract Communism through the Third Position proved important because it permanently linked Argentina to the Arab World just as the Arab-Israeli conflict took on international significance. And the decades of steady political and social interaction that followed helped effectively to deliver Middle East conflict to Argentina. Indeed, ethnic violence spiked during the 1960s and 1970s among pro-Arab groups, anti-Semitic nationalists and the Argentine-Jewish communities – the most egregious coming after the covert capture and execution of the Nazi fugitive Adolf Eichmann by Israeli officials in the early 1960s. 

Perón’s Third Position came full circle when he renewed relations with the Arab World on his return to power in 1973 after decades in exile, making Argentina the Latin American front in the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

Today, Peronistas carry on this legacy. Argentina joined the other members of the Arab-South American Summit in signing the Lima Declaration in 2005, a decidedly pro-Arab declaration that demanded a state of Palestine based on pre-1967 lines, with Jerusalem as its capital. Then, in December 2010, the Kirchner administration led the Argentine government unilaterally to recognise the state of Palestine, having already become the first-ever sitting president to visit a local Muslim institution during a 2009 tribute luncheon. Argentina again signed on to a message of Palestinian support in 2014 when the regional trade bloc Mercosur issued an open letter decrying what it saw as “disproportionate use of force” by Israeli forces in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, and publically condemned the Jewish state for its military operations.

The deadly attacks against Jewish institutions in Argentina during the 1990s did not happen in a vacuum. Perón’s response to Communism in the mid-1940s, coupled with an immigrant-rich population, together played a role in importing Middle East conflict. What began as a political response to the East-West struggle and the spread of Communism with the “Third Position” resulted in a societal shift that forever changed the country. Argentina holds a unique place in the legacy of Communism, and now Alberto Nisman could be considered the most recent victim of it.

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