Israel and Guatemala
... 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 pods.
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) flight.
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
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
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 DEGEM Systems."
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
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
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 or execution.
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 patrols.
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 in 1981.
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 insurgency.
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
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
It does not take convoluted reasoning to conclude that "both
the U.S. and Israel bear rather serious moral responsibility"