Latin American Reaction Over Syrian War Muted

Published April 12th, 2018 - 09:01 GMT
A Syrian boy crying after the loss his family (AFP/File Photo)
A Syrian boy crying after the loss his family (AFP/File Photo)

Seven years after the start of Syria’s devastating civil war, there seems to be no end in sight.

One of the longest conflicts of our times took a turn for the worse after the Syrian regime attacked the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta with chemical weapons on April 8, killing at least 78 civilians. Around 500 others are showing symptoms of exposure to toxic chemicals.

The attack was slammed by the governments of Turkey, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, among others.

The situation had reached a point where during March of this year alone, 783 people died, including 198 children and 138 women, during 54 massacres committed by the Bashar al-Assad regime.

In Latin America, however, reactions to such occurrences are rare. Only Mexico, Colombia and Panama have spoken about the situation in Syria.

“Absolute condemnation of what happened in Syria. Any attack with chemical weapons must be condemned by the whole world. Barbarous acts are unjustifiable,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos wrote on his Twitter account.

Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a press release expressed its “utmost concern” over the aggression and reaffirmed its “strong condemnation of the use of chemical weapons by any actor under any circumstances”.

The Panamanian government said “the use of chemical weapons, regardless of who uses them, is a clear violation of UN resolutions”.

One year ago, in April 2017, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay released a joint statement in which they voiced their concern over a chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Idlib.

“We call on all parties involved, including the actors with influence in the region, to exercise restraint in order to avoid an escalation of tensions and to find a political solution,” it said.

Ecuador also took a stand on the issue and rejected a U.S. offensive against an air base in Shayrat at the time.

In January of the same year, Venezuela reaffirmed its support for the Assad regime and congratulated him on the triumph of Syrian forces over Daesh. Venezuela’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying the struggle of both countries is for “sovereignty, independence and respect for the principle of non-interference” in internal affairs.

Besides these cases, no other major declarations have been made.

Anadolu Agency spoke with experts on the Middle East and Latin America to understand why the region has been so silent over the situation in Syria.

Latin American countries have no impact on the region

According to Mauricio Jaramillo Jassir, a researcher at Rosario University in Colombia and a former adviser to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Latin American countries, beyond saying that they regret the situation, don’t have much impact on the region.

“Except for Brazil and Venezuela, for a long time now, no other country has been interested in formulating a clear position on Syria”, he said.

 

 

Jaramillo stated that “very little is expected from these countries. I think there is no reason why they should have a position. The U.S., France, the UK and to a lesser degree China and Russia are expected to discuss Syria. Latin America not so much”.

Nadia Garcia Sicard, an international relations professional and expert on Middle East affairs, went further, saying that Latin America’s silence over the situation in Syria is due to most of the countries in the region being aligned with U.S. foreign policy on the Middle East, including Mexico and Colombia.

“Other countries such as Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil made statements about Syria, but these did not go beyond condemning the attacks. In general, the only thing the OAS has done over the last few years is issue condemnations against the inhumane attacks carried out by the Assad regime”, said Garcia, referring to the Organization of American States.

For example, she said, no Latin American country has taken a position against Iran or Russia.

“The only thing they do is condemn.”

Latin America won’t do anything unless the U.S. says so

The analyst said that Latin America will not do anything about Syria unless U.S. President Donald Trump takes a firm stand.

“What not only Latin America, but the whole world expects from the U.S., as a world leader, is for them to take the decision that [former President Barack] Obama did not take during his time, after saying that Assad had crossed a red line when he carried out his first chemical weapons attack.”

Garcia added that everyone is waiting for Trump to intervene after the latest chemical attack.

“In that case, Colombia and other countries in the region could participate by backing Washington´s position, as they have done before. Before that occurs, nothing is going to happen”.

But there is a second position in the region over Syria, which is only contextual: Latin America has had a very active and positive role in the face of the refugee crisis. Countries like Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil have opened their borders to Syrian refugees and have served as an example of integration compared to many European countries.

In that instance, Latin America has fulfilled an exemplary role, while on the political field, it has not done much.

Garcia highlighted that the U.S. could use this opportunity to not isolate itself -- something that Trump emphasized during his presidential bid -- but to intervene and show that “it is still the leader”.

There won’t be any participation because Latin America is “worn out”

Regardless of the position of some states under these circumstances, there won’t be any major participation from the region on issues concerning Syria, since “Latin America is worn out due to the Venezuelan crisis”.

For example, Colombia can’t take any effective action over issues such as Syrian refugees, intervention or direct support for Syria for two reasons: the Venezuelan refugee crisis in Colombia and the image of a post-conflict country that Colombia has showcased around the world over the last two years.

In cases such as Venezuela or Ecuador, they could be considered worn-out nations, “the first due to its ongoing crisis and the second due to reestablishing diplomatic ties with the U.S. recently”, said Garcia.

The U.S. government said Tuesday it will send an attack group to the Middle East consisting of 6,500 sailors and an air strike group. The decision comes after Trump held a meeting with top military commanders Monday to discuss possible retaliation for the attack.

 

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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