Israel and Guatemala
excerpted from the book
Israel Foreign Policy
excerpts from a book by
South End Press, 1987
... The history of Israel's relations
with Guatemala roughly parallels that of its ties with El Salvador
except the Guatemalan military was so unswervingly bloody that
Congress never permitted the ... Reagan Administration to undo
the military aid cutoff implemented during the Carter years.
Weaponry for the Guatemalan military is
the very least of what Israel has delivered. Israel not only provided
the technology necessary for a reign of terror, it helped in the
organization and commission of the horrors perpetrated by the
Guatemalan military and police. And even beyond that: to ensure
that the profitable relationship would continue, Israel and its
agents worked actively to maintain Israeli influence in Guatemala.
Throughout the years of untrammeled slaughter
that left at least 45,000 dead, and, by early 1983, one million
in internal exile - mostly indigenous Mayan Indians, who comprise
a majority of Guatemala's eight million people - and thousands
more in exile abroad, Israel stood by the Guatemalan military.
Three successive military governments and three brutal and sweeping
campaigns against the Mayan population, described by a U.S. diplomat
as Guatemala's "genocide against the Indians," had the
benefit of Israeli techniques and experience, as well as hardware.
Israel began selling Guatemala weapons
in 1974 and since then is known to have delivered 17 Arava aircraft.
In 1977 at the annual industrial fair, Interfer, Israel's main
attraction was the Arava. "An operative Arava is to be parked
outside the IAI pavilion for public inspection, although its silhouette
in flight is a common sight over the capital and countryside."'
Referring to the Aravas, Benedicto Lucas
Garcia, chief of staff during the rule of his brother Romeo Lucas
Garcia (1978-1982) said, "Israel helped us in regard to planes
and transportation-which we desperately needed because we've had
problems in transferring ground forces from one place to another.
By 1982, at least nine of the Aravas had been mounted with gun
Among the other weapons sold by Israel
were 10 RBY armored personnel carriers, three Dabur class patrol
boats armed with Gabriel missiles, light cannons, machine guns
and at least 15,000 Galil assault rifles. The Galil became Guatemala's
standard rifle and Uzis were widely seen as well.
According to Victor Perera, "Uzis
and the larger Galil assault rifles used by Guatemala's special
counterinsurgency forces accounted for at least half of the estimated
45,000 Guatemalan Indians killed by the military since 1978"
When the Reagan Administration took office
it was determined to do everything it could for Guatemala. It
had promised as much during the election campaign. Never had Ronald
Reagan seen a rightist dictatorship he didn't like; during his
1980 campaign he met with a representative of the right-wing business
lobby Los Amigos del Pais, and, referring to the Carter Administration's
aid cutoff, told him, "Don't give up. Stay there and fight.
I'll help you as soon as I get in."
The Guatemalan far-right apparently helped
Reagan get in.
Guatemalan business leaders reportedly
pumped large illegal contributions into the Reagan campaign coffers.
Their tentacles reached right into the core of the new administration
through the lobbying activities of the Hannaford-Deaver law firm
of White House troika member Michael Deaver. Within three days
of the Republican victory on 7 November 1980, Hannaford-Deaver
were busy arranging a Capitol Hill briefing for Amigos del Pais.
Congress, however, did not change its
attitude about Guatemala, and as late as 1985 remained adamant
about denying it military aid. In 1981, Reagan's Secretary of
State Alexander Haig "urged Israel to help Guatemala."
In July 1985 Israel helped the administration move a shipment
of 40 assault rifles with advanced night sights and 1,000 grenade
launchers from Israel to Guatemala on a KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines)
In late 1983, the Guerrilla Army of the
Poor (EGP) issued a communiqué saying that the previous
May a munitions factory producing bullets for Galil rifles and
Uzi submachine guns had begun operation in Alta Verapaz. Subsequently
the director of Army Public Relations confirmed that the military
was producing Galil rifle parts, had begun armor plating its vehicles
at the factory, and that the facility would soon be capable of
building grenade launchers. The following year the factory began
manufacturing entire Galil rifles under license from Israel.
Israeli advisers set up the factory and
then trained the Guatemalans to run it, said Gen. Benedicto Lucas
Garcia, who had headed the army at the time. "The factory
is now being run by Guatemalans," he added. There are hopes
in Guatemala that 30 percent of the plant's output can be sold
to Honduras and El Salvador.
The EGP said in 1983 that there were 300
Israeli advisers in Guatemala, working "in the security structures
and in the army." Other reports were less specific as to
numbers, but suggested that these Israeli advisers, "some
official, others private," performed a variety of functions.
Israelis "helped Guatemalan internal security agents hunt
underground rebel groups."
Gen. Lucas said Israeli advisers had come
to teach the use of Israeli equipment purchased by Guatemala.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the Guatemalan police agencies
had had extensive U.S. training in "riot control training
and related phases of coping with civil disturbances in a humane
and effective manner," a euphemism for the terror campaigns
in which these forces participated that in 1967-1968 took 7,000
lives while ostensibly fighting a guerrilla force that never numbered
more than 450. When Congress forbade U.S. forces to train the
internal police forces of other countries-passed in 1974, this
law was supplanted in 1985 by legislation that put the U.S. back
in the police-guidance business - the Israelis stepped in and
"set up their intelligence network, tried and tested on the
West Bank and Gaza."
Israeli noncommissioned officers were
also said to have been hired by big landowners to train their
private security details. (Under Marcos, Israel did the same in
the Philippines. These private squads, together with "off-duty
military officers formed the fearsome 'death squads' which later
spread to neighboring El Salvador, where they have been responsible
for an estimated 20,000-30,000 murders of left-wing dissidents."
Not only did the Israelis share their
experiences and their tactics, they bestowed upon Guatemala the
technology needed by a modern police state. During the period
Guatemala was under U.S. tutelage, the insurgency spread from
the urban bourgeoisie to the indigenous population in the rural
highlands; with Israeli guidance the military succeeded in suppressing
... the drive for land and political liberation. The Guatemalan
military is very conscious of that achievement, even proud of
it. Some officers argue that with the help of the U.S. they could
not have quelled the insurgency, as Congress would not have tolerated
their ruthless tactics.
In 1979, the Guatemalan interior minister
paid a "secret and confidential" visit to Israel, where
he met with the manufacturers of "sophisticated police equipment."
In March of the following year Interior Minister Donaldo Alvarez
Ruiz was in Israel to conclude an agreement for police training.
Following the overthrow of Lucas Garcia, the home of Interior
Minister Alvarez was raided, "uncovering underground jail
cells, stolen vehicles...[and] scores of gold graduation rings,
wrenched from the fingers of police torture victims."
Israeli advisers have worked with the
feared G-2 police intelligence unit. overseen by the army general
staff, the G-2 is the intelligence agency - sections charged with
"the elimination of individuals" are stationed at every
army base - which has been largely responsible for the death squad
killings over the last decade. The present civilian government
has dissolved the DIT, a civilian organization subordinate to
G-2, but not G-2 itself.
In 1981, the Army's School of Transmissions
and Electronics, a school designed and financed by the Israeli
company Tadiran to teach such subjects as encoding, radio jamming
and monitoring, and the use of Israeli equipment was opened in
Guatemala City. According to the colonel directing the school,
everything in it came from Israel: the "teaching methods,
the teaching teams, the technical instruments, books, and even
the custom furniture...designed and built by the Israeli company
At the opening ceremony the Israeli ambassador
was thanked by Chief of Staff Gen. Benedicto Lucas Garcia for
"the advice and transfer of electronic technology" which,
Lucas said, had brought Guatemala up to date. Calling Guatemala
"one of our best friends" the ambassador promised that
further technology transfers were in the works.
Perhaps the most sinister of all the equipment
supplied by Israel to Guatemala were two computers. One was in
an old military academy and became, as Benedicto Lucas called
it, "the nerve center of the armed forces, which deals with
the movements of units in the field and so on." The other
computer was located in an annex of the National Palace. The G-2
have a control center there, and, since the days of Romeo Lucas
Garcia, meetings have been held in that annex to select assassination
victims. According to a senior Guatemalan army official, the complex
contains "an archive and computer file on journalists, students,
leaders, people of the left, politicians, and so on. " This
material is combined with current intelligence reports and mulled
over during weekly sessions that have included, in their respective
times, both Romeo Lucas and Oscar Mejia Victores.
The bureaucratic procedures for approving
the killing of a dissident are well-established. "A local
military commander has someone they think is a problem,"
the officer explains. "So they speak with G-2, and G-2 consults
its own archives and information from its agents and the police
and, if all coincide, it passes along a direct proposition to
the minister of defense. They say, 'We have analyzed the case
of such and such a person in depth and this person is responsible
for the following acts and we recommend that we execute them."
Control of the Rural Population
The aspect of Israeli cooperation with
Guatemala with the most serious implications is the role played
by Israeli personnel in the universally condemned rural "pacification"
program. Extreme maldistribution of land-exacerbated by encroachment
on indigenous land-was a major cause of the present rebellion.
After trying several different approaches, the military, under
Rios Montt, embarked on a resolution of the problem, substituting
forced relocation and suppression for equitable land distribution.
In 1982 Israeli military advisers helped
develop and carry out 'Plan Victoria' the devastating scorched
earth campaign which Rios Montt .unleashed on the highland population.
In June 1983, the Guatemalan embassy in Washington confirmed that
"personnel sent by the Israeli government were participating
in the repopulation and readjustment programs for those displaced."
Rios Montt himself told the Washington Times that the Israeli
government was giving his administration help with the counterinsurgency
plan called "Techo, tortilla y trabajo" (shelter, food
and work). The "three T's" followed an earlier Rios
program called Fusiles y Fridoles, or beans and bullets, where
wholesale slaughter was combined with the provision of life's
necessities to those willing to cooperate with the military.
The success of the government's initially
savage but sophisticated campaign against the rebels has come
without significant U.S. military assistance, and top field commanders
say that none is necessary now to finish the guerrillas.
"We declared a state of siege so
we could kill legally," Rios Montt told a group of politicians.
The Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops called what Rios was
doing "genocide." Following Rios' overthrow, his successor
Mejia Victores continued the program, proclaiming that model villages
would be extended throughout the country.
As the army bombed, strafed and burned
village after village, an estimated 100,000 peasants escaped across
the border to Mexico or to the mountainous territory controlled
by the guerrillas. Others were captured by the military. Many
of those who went to the guerrillas were later forced by hunger
to surrender themselves to the military. Their fate was confinement
in model villages, what were called strategic hamlets during the
U.S. assault on Vietnam.
One of the most oppressive features of
Guatemala's pacification program is the "civilian self-defense
patrols" whose ranks are filled by coercion, with most joining
out of fear of being called subversive, and thus marked for torture
Those who do serve in the patrols must
"turn in their quota of 'subversives."' Otherwise, "they
will be forced to denounce their own neighbors and to execute
them with clubs and fists in the village plaza."'
The patrols are believed by most analysts
to have been suggested by Israelis. They have had a profound effect
on Mayan society, both psychologically, "a permanent violation
of our values or a new negative vision," as the country's
Catholic bishops charged, and practically, as long shifts on patrol
prevent fulfillment of family and economic obligations
In 1983 the Guatemalan government estimated
that 850 villages in the highlands had "self defense"
units. The following year the U.S. embassy in Guatemala estimated
that 700,000 men had been enrolled in the units, armed with Israeli
assistance. Currently 900,000 men are organized into the civil
It is no accident that the Guatemalans
looked to the Israelis for assistance in organizing their campaign
against the Indians, and having followed their mentors' advice,
wound up with something that looks quite a bit like the Israeli
occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and
the Gaza strip. As the Israelis wrecked the local economy and
turned the occupied territories into a captive market and a cheap
labor pool, the Guatemalan military has made economic activity
in the occupied highlands all but impossible.
As it is openly acknowledged in the Israeli
media that the Palestinian population must not be allowed to exceed
the Jewish population, it is common knowledge that the Guatemalan
military would like to reduce the Mayan population to a minority.
But most of all there is the unyielding
violence of the suppression. The occupation regime Israel has
maintained since 1967 over the Palestinians (and its occupation
of the Syrian Golan Heights, the Egyptian Sinai and Southern Lebanon)
has trained "an entire generation of Israelis...to impose
Israeli rule over subject peoples." "The Israeli soldier
is a model and an example to us," Gen. Benedicto Lucas said
It was in the coercive resettlement program
that Israel's activities in Guatemala intersected most directly
with those of the Christian right surrounding the Reagan Administration.
This was particularly true during the reign of Rios Montt. Montt
was a so-called "born-again Christian," a member ("elder")
of the Arcata, California based Church of the Word, a branch of
Evangelical Gospel Outreach.
In Guatemala, the Christian right was
interested in converts by the end of 1982 reactionary Protestants
had succeeded in recruiting 22 percent of the population to their
theology of blind obedience and anti-communism. They were particularly
hostile to Catholicism, especially "Liberation Theology,"
which many of the Guatemalan military deemed responsible for the
Right-wing Christian organizations seemed
to be especially drawn to the harsh social control being exerted
on the highland Mayans. During the Rios Montt period, foreign
fundamentalists were permitted access to military operational
zones, while Catholics were turned away-or attacked. During this
period "many Catholic rectories and churches in Quiche [a
highland province] [were] turned into Army barracks. In late 1983,
the Vatican itself protested the murder of a Franciscan priest
in Guatemala and the (exiled) Guatemalan Human Rights Commission
(CDHG) charged that in the space of several months 500 catechists
had been disappeared. In October the police caught and tortured
some religious workers.
Meanwhile, Rios Montt surrounded himself
with advisers, both North American and Guatemalan, from his Verbo
church, and what appeared to be a loose coalition of right-wing
fundamentalist organizations, most notably Pat Robertson's Christian
Broadcasting Network, began an extensive fundraising drive and
also started sending volunteers to Ixil Triangle villages under
military control. Rios Montt chose Love Lift International, the
"relief arm" of Gospel Outreach, Verbo's parent church,
to carry the food and supplies purchased with the money raised.
Verbo representatives, along with an older evangelical outfit,
the Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT/SIL, the latter initials for
the Summer Institute of Linguistics, an organization whose CIA
connections are long and impeccable and which has often been charged
with involvement in massacres of indigenous peoples throughout
the Americas), arranged with the government "to take charge
of all medical work in the Ixil Triangle, and for all education
in Indian areas up to the third grade to be taught in Indian languages
with WBT/SIL assistance," through the Behrhorst Clinic. WBT/SIL
and the Clinic's parent, the Behrhorst Foundation, incorporated
with Verbo Church into the Foundation for Aid to the Indian People
(FUNDAPI), whose stated purpose was to channel international Christian
donations to refugees and which coordinated volunteers from U.S.
right-wing religious organizations.
Although nothing has yet emerged which
definitively ties Israeli activities in Guatemala to those of
the religious right, it is reasonable to assume there is contact.
Since the late 1970s the government of Israel has devoted considerable
energy to befriending such political luminaries of rightist evangelism
as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, having turned to these groups
after the National Council of Churches passed some mildly reproving
resolutions about the Middle East. The Christian extremists tell
Israel what it wants to hear. Jerry Falwell found justification
in the Bible for an Israel encompassing parts of "lraq, Syria,
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan and all of Lebanon, Jordan,
and Kuwait. Pat Robertson praised the Reagan Administration's
veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's invasion
of Lebanon with some gobbledygook tying the invasion to the fundamentalist
superstition that Israel will be the site of the last battle,
Armageddon: "Israel has lit the fuse, and it is a fast burning
fuse, and I don't think that the fuse is going to be quenched
until that region explodes in flames. That is my personal feeling
from the Bible." Robertson urged his viewers to call the
White House and voice their support for the Israeli invasion.
Untroubled by the scene in Armageddon
when all the Jews will be converted (or damned), Israel welcomed
the "Christian Voice of Hope" radio station and its
companion "Star of Hope" television to Southern Lebanon,
and, even though proselytizing is illegal in Israel, provided
the stations with Israeli government newscasts. Supported by donations
from U.S. right-wing evangelicals, and in particular by Pat Robertson's
Christian Broadcasting Network, the stations were "used as
a military tool" by the Israeli proxy South Lebanon Army.
Aside from the religious right and their
secular allies, the Guatemalan model villages have been universally
condemned. Until 1985 a bipartisan majority opposed the granting
of any U.S. aid that would strengthen the development poles. This,
of course, stopped short of undercutting support for the "pacification"
program, as funds received from U.S. AID and other foreign sources
freed up government funds for use on the model villages. In 1984,
U.S. AID granted Guatemala $1 million which was used for constructing
infrastructure for the model villages. Americas Watch Vice Chairman
Aryeh Neier pointed out that humanitarian assistance from the
U.S. has "played an essential role in the Guatemalan Army's
counterinsurgency programs," enabling the army to distribute
(or withhold) food to exact compliance with its resettlement program.
Abdication of Responsibility
... When the U.S. intervened in Guatemala
and overthrew its liberal, democratically elected government in
1954, it effectively transferred rule to the country's military,
which has held power ever since. Even the civilian presidency
of Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro was (with U.S. acquiescence)
immediately subjugated by the military. To cite only one example
of the continuity that makes the last three tragic decades of
Guatemala a U.S. responsibility: the dossiers that formed the
basis of the intelligence unit G-2's death squad selection process
also date back to 1954. After the fall of the government of Jacobo
Arbenz, the army confiscated the membership lists of the many
organizations which had blossomed during the all-too-short hiatus
between repressive regimes- Guatemala was ruled by the oppressive
dictator Jorge Ubico until 1945, when he was bloodlessly replaced
by a popular government under Dr. Juan Jose Arevalo-and from these
lists culled 70,000 "communists." These files were updated
during the 1960s and used for assassinations during a U.S.-supported
counterinsurgency. In the 1970s Israel stepped in and helped with
the computerization of the whole bloody system.
It does not take convoluted reasoning
to conclude that "both the U.S. and Israel bear rather serious
moral responsibility" for Guatemala.