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 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 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 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 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 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 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.


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