Israel's relations with the states of Latin America, comprising all the Spanish speaking countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean, dates back to even before the official independence of the State of Israel. In November 1947, when the UN General Assembly voted to partition the territory of the British Mandate in Palestine, more than half of the Latin American member nations voted in favor of creating a Jewish state.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Israel's relations with countries in the region were strengthened, due in no small measure to joint programs in which Israel shared its experience and skills in areas such as agriculture, medicine, organization of cooperatives and rural, regional and community development. Thousands of Latino trainees participated in study programs in Israel during this time.
Developments during the 1960s and 1970s, however, led to a lessening of support for Israel within the countries of Latin America. This hardening was apparent mainly within the United Nations and its affiliated bodies.
Today, though, relations have thawed considerably and Israel maintains full diplomatic relations with all the countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean, except Cuba. These relations are reflected in productive cooperation in the political, economic and cultural spheres, as well as in a large number of bilateral agreements in many areas. The only two embassies located in Jerusalem are those of El Salvador and Costa Rica, a fact which adds a facet to the traditionally friendly relations with the countries of the region and especially those of Central America.
The friendly bilateral relations are only partially reflected in the multilateral sphere - in the votes of most countries of the region in the United Nations and other international organizations - inter alia due to their traditional affiliation with the Non-Aligned States and the Group of 77. The political-economic-social Rio Group has so far manifested a more balanced and positive position regarding Israel.
Commerce between Israel and Latin America is extending steadily. A Free Trade Agreement between Mexico and Israel, concluded in 2000, added a new dimension to this sphere. Exports, including chemicals, high-tech software, agricultural produce, machinery and electronics, and imports, consisting mainly of meat, grain, corn, sugar, cocoa, coffee and metals, are both on the increase, and Israeli banks, construction firms and agricultural planning and development companies are active in the countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Cultural and scientific agreements for the exchange of artists, students and athletes operate between Israel with some 20 countries and are coordinated by the Institute of Israel-Iberoamerican Culture in Jerusalem.
In June 2009, the Conference of Latin American Parliamentarians met in Jerusalem with the aim of exposing of Latin American legislators to the Israeli reality and regional issues. Twenty-six senators and members of parliament from thirteen countries attended the event, including the president of the El Salvador Parliament and the chairs of foreign affairs committees from Chile, Mexico and Paraguay.
In February 2014, Israel was accepted as an observer state of the Pacific Alliance, a Latin American trade bloc that consists of Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Costa Rica. Israel exports around $900 million worth of goods to the Pacific Alliance annually and the country's accession will enable it to conduct trade more efficiently with these countries.
Two-way trade between Israel and Mexico in 2015 amounted to $700 million, a 300% increase since the signing of the Free Trade Agreement in 2000. Mexico exports cement as well as agricultural and mining products to Israel, it's top trade partner in the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Mexico during a September 2017 trip to Latin America, the first time a sitting Israeli Prime Minister has visited the Central-American country. While in Mexico the Prime Minister participated in events organized by the local Jewish community and signed bilateral space, aviation, communications and development agreements. The two nations agreed to begin negotiations to update their free trade agreement, which was signed in 2000. Israeli officials expressed interest in assisting the U.S. and Mexico develop Latin America with telecommunications and technology projects, and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto welcomed the offer.
In May 2018, Israeli water desalination company Fluence announced a plan with local partners to build a $48 million, 5.8 million gallon/day seawater desalination plant for the town of San Quintin, Mexico and the surrounding areas. The plant will serve more than 100,000 residents in the Baja California region of Mexico, which had been under an officially declared drought since 2014. It is estimated that the desalination plant will be operational by 2021.
The Israeli company Gilat Satellite Networks was awarded a $153.6 million contract for two telecommunications infrastructure projects by Peru's Telecommunications Investment Fund (Fitel) in June 2018. The projects will involve Gilat building satellite infrastructure in the Amazonas and Ica regions of Peru to support schools, hospitals, police, and families.
Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
“Israel Accepted as an Observer State of the Pacific Alliance,” IMRA (February 11, 2014);
“Mexico, Israel target tripling annual trade to $2.1 billion,” JTA (July 19, 2016);
Fluence to build seawater desalination plant in Mexico, Israel21c, (May 2, 2018);
Mexico accepts Israeli offer to help develop Central America, Reuters, (September 14, 2017);
Israel's Gilat awarded $153.6 mln for telecoms projects in Peru, Reuters, (June 28, 2018).