Latin America Can Help Save the Yazidis

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

The Yazidis, 700,000 of them, are at risk of being murdered. The criminal militants of the Islamic State - that bloodthirsty entity that has suddenly emerged in the Middle East - have already killed several hundred. The number is not higher because the Yazidis fled and hid. The Muslims liquidate them and sometimes rape the women before slitting their throats.

The persecution is based on a horrendous medieval tradition that rejects any expression of religious pluralism. The Yazidis have another god and other ancient beliefs, so their extermination is in order. There is only one God, Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet. Anyone who believes or says something different is beheaded. The Christians, known as Nazarenes, are crucified before being killed - a strange courtesy.

The Yazidis are Kurds, but a huge majority of their compatriots profess Islamism and look the other way when they are massacred by the fanatics intent on reviving the Caliphate. The Peshmerga, the Kurdish army, does not want them. The population accuses them falsely of worshiping the devil. While the Kurds plead for their right to self-government, they deny salt and water to the Yazidis, a minority within a minority.

President Obama has done the right thing by trying to protect the Yazidis. Every serious and compassionate nation has "the responsibility to protect," as established by the United Nations agency devoted to the prevention of genocide. It is a new right, nurtured by the copious blood of Rwandan victims when the Hutus annihilated 1 million Tutsis in the mid-1990s.

It is true that the United States cannot protect all the world all the time, but it can - and must, when feasible - prevent such obscene butcheries.

Logically, the Yazidis are trying to emigrate to wherever they can find shelter. They're escaping to save their lives.

The Yazidis know what awaits them and are trying to emigrate to the United States, Canada and Europe. Nobody talks about Latin America. Why not? If the Latin Americans were really supportive and tolerant they should grant residence visas to many Yazidi families.

After all, almost all immigrant groups that settled in Latin America have been beneficial to the country that welcomed them. And I'm not talking only of the Spaniards and Portuguese, close relatives who can be easily assimilated, but also of the Japanese, Chinese, Lebanese, Syrians and Jews who arrived in Latin America in considerable numbers, not knowing the language and worshiping gods and rites that were foreign to the national traditions. That didn't prevent them from creating considerable wealth with their intense labor and innumerable mixed families.

Is it so difficult for each Latin American country to save a few thousand Yazidi families? Because governments are not usually good Samaritans, organizing that kind of rescue would be up to members of the civilian society. If those people get a green light, let them ask for cooperation from the churches, the Masonic lodges and the civic clubs so they may contribute to saving the Yazidis, and they will show their better instincts.

We Cubans can understand better than anyone this "responsibility to protect," for a bad reason and a good one.

The bad reason came in 1939, when the government in Havana turned away the S.S. St. Louis, a steamship that carried 936 Jews who had paid for their visas to escape the Nazi horror. The government did not allow them to disembark, and they had to return to Europe. A few months later, World War II began, and a good many of the people the Cubans had refused to protect died in the gas chambers. Eternal shame.

The good reason came 20 years later, when a Stalinist regime was installed in Cuba, triggering an exodus that has not yet ceased. The United States welcomed and sheltered almost 2 million Cuban refugees. Counting their descendants, their number must now be 4 million or 5 million.

To a different degree, though generously, the refugees were welcomed by the pre-Chavist democratic Venezuela, Spain and Costa Rica. It was during those terrible circumstances when many of us Cubans realized the value of a friendly hand when all doors were slamming in our faces.

Carlos Alberto Montaner was born in Havana in 1943 and has lived in Madrid since 1970. A former university professor, he is an acclaimed writer and journalist. His syndicated column appears in dozens of newspapers in the United States, Latin America and Spain. Originally published in the Miami Herald. Republished with author permission.

(AP Photo)

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