© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

By failing the statesman test on Hamas, Petro fails it in Colombia, too

Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking in Puente de Boyaca, Colombia, Monday, Aug. 7, 2023.
Ivan Valencia
Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking in Puente de Boyaca, Colombia, on Aug. 7, 2023.

COMMENTARY Refusing to condemn Hamas terrorism — and calling Israel "Nazis" — leaves Colombian President Gustavo Petro with little if any of the nation-rebuilding credibility he needs at home.

There are a lot of things Gustavo Petro can stick on his résumé. Guerrilla. Senator. Mayor of Bogotá. And his current gig, President of Colombia.

But Petro has made it irrevocably clear this week there’s one thing he’ll never be known as:


And that’s a sad, pathetic reality for the third most populous country in Latin America, especially one that’s still finding its way out of the labyrinth of a half-century-long civil war.

READ MORE: Mic drop in Brasília! Boric shames the LatAm left's hoary hypocrites

Petro had a definitive chance to prove that when it comes to international affairs, he’s something better than the juvenile left-wing ideologue he’s been parading before us since he took office 14 months ago. Something loftier than the stooge who apologizes for rank dictatorships like Nicaragua’s, or ranker thugs like Vladimir Putin, just because they flash anti-U.S. credentials.

He had the opportunity to show the world that for just one adult moment he could ditch his dogmatic nature — and call the homicidal terrorism that Hamas unleashed in Israel last weekend what it is: homicidal terrorism.

He could have unequivocally condemned the Hamas militants for their savage and unprovoked massacre of hundreds of unarmed innocents, including children and the elderly, at the Nova music festival, in the city Sderot, the village of Kfar Azza or the Kibbutz Be’eri. He could have denounced their cowardly abduction of scores of Israeli civilians as hostages and human shields.

Just as important, he could have helped legitimize his understandable criticism of the Israeli government’s oppressive treatment of Palestinians — which Hamas purports to be avenging — by renouncing the incomprehensible bloodlust that will only set back the Palestinian cause he professes to champion.

Leftists like Petro fail to grasp that condemnation of Hamas would make them more credible advocates for the Palestinians they claim to champion.

Instead, Petro made sure it will be next to impossible for the world inside and outside Latin America to ever really take him seriously again.

Not only has Petro remained silent about Hamas' ISIS-style atrocities, he petulantly tried to obscure them this week by branding Israel’s inevitable military response to the attacks as “Nazism.” His remarks stoked Hamas supporters in Colombia to paint a swastika on the Israeli embassy in Bogotá.

Diplomatically stupid

We can and should question the Israeli government’s Palestinian policies, especially in the Gaza Strip, Hamas' base of operations. Though I certainly defend Israel’s right to exist, I admit I find its approach to the Palestinians often unjust if not sometimes apartheid-esque.

But attempting to veil the raw murder of Israeli Jews by calling Israeli Jewish officialdom “Nazis” is as diplomatically stupid as it is historically preposterous.

An Israeli soldier stands by the bodies of Israelis killed by Palestinian armed militants who entered from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, carried out a surprise, multi-front attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday, firing thousands of rockets and infiltrating the country by land, air and sea. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Tsafrir Abayov
An Israeli soldier stands by the bodies of Israelis killed by Hamas militants who entered from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023.

It also shows an astonishing lack of awareness of the Latin American left’s embarrassing reputation for anti-Semitism — especially among leaders like Venezuela’s boorish socialist president, Nicolás Maduro — which has always undermined its credibility when it lobbies against Israel.

That’s likely why the region’s largest country, Brazil — whose own president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is a leftist who’s also outspoken on the Palestinian plight — realized it needed to tread more carefully this week since it currently chairs the U.N. Security Council. Lula’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mauro Vieira, expressed “Brazil’s condemnation of the attacks against Israel and its condolences to the victims.”

Here's what hopeless doctrinaires like Petro fail to grasp: empathetic common sense like that helps make you a more valid advocate for Palestinians, by separating you from the Hamas evil that falsely claims to speak for Palestinians. And, in turn, it helps make Brazil a more persuasive voice before Israel’s loutishly far-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his extreme-right cabinet, as Lula urges them this week not to heap excessive counter-attack misery on innocent Palestinians in Gaza.

It's true that other leftist leaders in Latin America, especially Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, have been shamelessly silent about Hamas this week. But the shamelessness is particularly distressing on Petro’s part.

Why? Petro once belonged to the now defunct Colombia guerrilla army known as M-19. His ascent to the presidency was an encouraging sign of the country’s efforts to rebuild post-civil war. But, if Petro wants to be a trusted leader of that reconstruction, he has to distance himself from the sort of terrorist behavior Colombian groups like M-19, both left- and right-wing, were notorious for themselves.

By failing that test this week on the international front, he’s all but failed it at home, too.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
More On This Topic