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Colombian President Gustavo Petro on Ukraine, Palestine & Why Latin America Rejects Western Hypocrisy

Written by on 22/09/2023

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations General Assembly is continuing today in New York. On Tuesday, Colombian President Gustavo Petro gave an inspired address calling to end wars while doing more to combat climate change, which he described as “the mother of all crises.” Petro called for the United Nations to hold peace summits to resolve the conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine.

Gustavo Petro is the first leftist to ever be president of Colombia, the second-largest country in South America after Brazil. He was elected last year after campaigning to fight against inequality and poverty, increase taxes on the wealthy, expand social programs, restore peace and end Colombia’s dependence on fossil fuels. Gustavo Petro ran for office with Francia Márquez Mina, who became the first Black woman and the first Afro-Colombian ever elected vice president. Gustavo Petro is a former M-19 guerrilla who went on to become the mayor of Bogotá and a senator.

Well, on Tuesday, I had a chance to sit down with Gustavo Petro for an exclusive broadcast interview.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re here at Colombia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, just after President Gustavo Petro gave his speech before the U.N. General Assembly. He was the third person to speak — first the Brazilian President Lula, then President Biden, then Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!

PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] Thank you. Very kind.

AMY GOODMAN: You spoke just after President Biden. In part of his speech, he talked about the world giving more support to Ukraine. In your speech, you called for two peace summits: one in Ukraine and one for Palestine. You said:

PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] I ask: What is the difference between Ukraine and Palestine? Isn’t it time to end both wars and other wars and use the little time we have to build the roads to save life on Earth?

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you are calling for.

PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] Latin America, almost in general, has not had the same position as NATO, nor the United States, nor the European Union. We have been invited to provide arms, machinery for war, to send soldiers to the war in Ukraine. We have not accepted that invitation. Basically, we’re neutral in any war, not because we don’t believe that there is an occupation, but because, basically, we don’t believe in those who are inviting us to participate in war, because many of the countries of Latin America — Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Grenada, Argentina and so on — have suffered invasions by the same countries that today are extending an invitation to reject the invasion of Ukraine. Most of the Latin American countries rejected the invasions of Libya, Iraq and Syria, which were done for motives which today are illegal.

And in that regard, when I compare the situation of Palestine with the situation of the Ukraine, I want to show a parallelism in the real situations. There’s military occupation in both countries. But there’s a different attitude among world powers. The European Union is interested in pushing Russia back, together with NATO. They have certain economic arrangements with Ukraine. Ukraine is like the role of Mexico in relation to the United States. But they’re not interested in Palestine. They’re not interested in the conflict with Israel. The United States is not interested in having a conflict with Israel — enforcing the Oslo Accords, which date back 30 years and which spoke of two states and Palestinian sovereignty and ending a civilian and military occupation of Palestinian territory. That is not happening. Yet, faced with the same circumstance, we have a two-faced situation. That is what I call the hypocrisy of international policy. In Latin America, that’s not well received.

That is why I propose that the United Nations be consistent. If we want a peace conference in the Ukraine and in Palestine, it’s because we want there to be a common policy against invasions in any part of the world, carried out by any country. It doesn’t depend on which country invades. In the Rome Statute, which was the basis for the International Criminal Court, an international crime was added there, and it is called aggression, international aggression. It had never been used before. And that formulation, which is to be found in the Rome Statute, has not been used because almost all of the countries that today condemn the invasion of Ukraine as a matter of military power have also invaded other countries. It’s just that they don’t want those invasions to be condemned.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you discussed this with President Biden?

PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] Yes, clearly, and with the European Union, because recently we had a conference in Brussels among all the countries of Latin America and the European Union. And note that the first effort, instead of trying to focus the discussion on the objective of the conference, which was to build stronger relations between Latin America and Europe, what the European leaders wanted was to bring Zelensky and to have a show in the midst, in the middle of the meeting with Latin America. The immense majority of the Latin American countries oppose that, because we are not going to that meeting for the purpose of being used. And a good part of the discussion at the end revolved not around how we could establish a new era in our relations, but rather around the question of the war in Ukraine, a war which is prejudicial to Latin America, because it has led to greater hunger among the populations of Latin America.

What we want is peace. We said the same thing to the government of the United States. Indeed, in my case, personally, given that previous administrations in Colombia purchased Russian weaponry, which is there in Colombia, there was a request on the part of both Russia, for the Russian weapons to go back to Russia, and from the United States, for the Russian weaponry to go to the Ukraine. I did not accept either. What Latin America wants is peace. Today, peace is indispensable, not only because of the consequences that that war could entail, and I think we’re beginning to see them with an expansion of the idea of war in the world, but because we need this time.

And that was the objective of my speech with the United Nations, in order to act based on what is most important, the most important thing we face today, which is defending life on the planet, which is making effective decisions that would make it possible to bring a halt to the climate crisis. So, what is the benefit to us if Ukraine or Russia wins, whether NATO expands or not, if human life is limited in this definitive manner on the planet Earth?

AMY GOODMAN: Colombian President Gustavo Petro. Coming up, we’ll speak about the climate crisis, migration, and why he opposes U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba. Back in 30 seconds.

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