Israeli Connection - Not just Guns for Guatemala

September 25, 2007

In June 1982, Israeli armored divisions invaded Lebanon. At once, the parallels resonated through Central American militar- ies. Defense Minister Garcia of El Salvador spoke wistfully of a pre- emptive strike at Managua, in the same way as Israel had hit Beirut, frustrated that his hands were tied by Washington. The analogy be- tween the Sandinistas and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was irresistible, especially since State Department rationales for the "external" roots of the Cen- tral American crisis had dwelt so heavily on the PLO presence in revolutionary Managua. The Central American Right ad- mired the Beirut summer on so many levels: Israel was a country which used decisive military force May/June 1983 to resolve its contradictions, did so in open defiance of world opin- ion and was able to bend Wash- ington to its will. And behind the militarist posture was a solid-look- ing parliamentary democracy, with an agrarian sector that seemed technologically efficient and so- cially visionary. In Guatemala, the metaphor was stretched furthest. Here, rightists spoke openly of the "Palestiniani- zation" of the nation's rebellious Mayan Indians. By the end of Rios Montt's Plan Victoria 82 scorched earth campaign," with its accom- panying talk of a new "integrated nationalism," the Indians-with up to 100,000 in Mexican refuge and *See "Guatemala--The War Is Not Over," NACLA Report on the Americas (Mar-Apr 1983). "a further million displaced inside Guatemala--began to look very much like a people stripped of a homeland. Army planners looked hard at Israeli agricultural settle- ments as a model for reworking the devastated rural economy. Israeli penetration of Central America as a weapons supplier is now well-established. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon pays a light- ning visit to Honduras with his Air Force chief; short take-off and landing Arava aircraft are the fa- vorite choice of rural counter- insurgency planners; Galil assault rifles and stubby Uzi submachine- guns are standard issue light arms. Since Beirut, Sharon offers captured PLO weapons free to any Central American army will- ing to pay transportation costs. Top Washington Proxy Even so, Guatemalan-Israeli relations are a special case. The ties date back to 1948, when Gua- temala provided one of three United Nations commissioners overseeing the creation of the Jewish state. Jorge Garcia Gran- ados, later to be a close political associate of President Romeo Lu- cas Garcia, used his stint as Gua- temala's U.N. ambassador to deepen the connection; Guate- mala has taken a loyal pro-Israel stance ever since in international forums. Today, Israel's role in Central America forms part of a concerted diplomatic offensive, which re- sponds to Israel's need for foreign allies and the demands of an economy top-heavy with arms ex- ports. This independent foreign policy agenda is quite compatible with the regional role requested by Washington-that of loyal sur- rogate. Israeli Economic Coordi- nation Minister Ya'acov Meridor told a gathering of Israeli busi- nessmen in 1981, "Israel coveted 43update update update update the job of top Washington proxy in Central America." Arms are the most visible evi- dence. Until the mid-1970s, Gua- temala was supplied mainly by obsolete U.S. war materiel. But in 1975, when Great Britain pres- sured the Ford Administration to withhold shipments of offensive weapons to a country likely to use them for an invasion of Belize, Is- rael stepped smoothly into the gap. In 1975, it made its first deliv- ery of Arava aircraft, and followed up with artillery and small arms. With the Aravas came technicians and advisers. After the U.S. deci- sion to suspend arms sales in 1977, Israel became Guatemala's prin- cipal supplier. In 1980, the Army was fully re-equipped with Galil rifles at a cost of $6 million; in the same year, Guatemala began to make inquiries about acquiring the advanced Kfir jet fighter-bomber. Agreements for large-scale po- lice assistance, again replacing a defunct U.S. program, were sealed by the visit of Interior Minister Do- naldo Alvarez Ruiz to Israel in March 1980. Today, Israeli advis- ers work closely with Guatemala's police intelligence (G-2), and both The Guardian of London and the Tel Aviv newspaper Haolam Hazeh reported in December 1981 that Israel and Argentina were collab- orating on specialized electron- ic surveillance techniques. The Guardian went even further, as- serting that interrogation and tor- ture methods were jointly planned by advisers from Israel, Argentina and Chile. With the advice has come the latest in electronic hardware. Star exhibit is the new Army Transmis- sions and Electronics School, opened in 1981 by President Lu- cas Garcia. Designed, staffed and funded by Israelis, its sophistica- ted systems are unprecedented 44 in Central America. At the school's opening ceremony, Israeli Am- bassador Moshe Dayan (no rela- tion to the late defense minister) hailed Guatemala as "one of our best friends," and promised that further technical and scientific as- sistance programs would follow. Israeli-Trained Golpistas The praise was reciprocal. On the military front, Defense Minister Gen. Benedicto Lucas Garcia-- the then president's brother- praised Israel for the "gigantic job" it was doing on behalf of the Guatemalan armed forces. Yet for all the political affinities between the Lucas regime and Israel's Begin government, the Israeli role has become even more marked since the March 23, 1982, coup which brought Gen. Efrain Rios Montt to power. Tel Aviv news- papers reported that 300 Israeli advisers had helped in the execu- tion of the coup, and Rios Montt himself paid homage to their role, acknowledging to an ABC reporter that the bloodless operation had gone off so smoothly "because many of our soldiers were trained by Israelis." Military aid, however, is merely the tip of the iceberg. The new Israeli technology, for example, has civilian as well as military ap- plications. The radar system at Guatemala City's La Aurora inter- national airport is run by Israeli technicians, while others instruct government bureaucrats in the use of computerized information and management systems. As Guatemala's economic crisis has bitten deeper, Israel has helped the military regime to ride out the recession. Soon after Rios Montt's seizure of power, new Minister of Economy Julio Matheu made a trip to Israel one of his first priorities, returning with a new, wide-ranging Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement. Guatemala will rely particularly heavily on Israel to revive its wilt- ing tourist industry. Bilateral tour- ism agreements were signed in March 1982, and the Guatemalan tourist board, INGUAT is reportedly targeting Jewish communities in New York City, Miami and Los Angeles for the promotion of tour- ism in Guatemala. In return, paral- lel cultural agreements have brought a regular flow of Israeli programs to Guatemalan radio. The Israeli national airline, El Al, Guatemala's AVIATECA and Air Florida have discussed joint tour- ist promotion campaigns involving Guatemala City's Sheraton Hotel, locally owned by the Kong family, which has extensive links to the far-right Movement of National Lib- eration (MLN). As a token of Guatemala's grati- tude for Israeli assistance, current Israeli Ambassador Elieser Armon is now the proud wearer of Guate- mala's highest honor-the Order of the Quetzal (Grand Cross). At the award ceremony, Armon was praised by his hosts for "boosting the program under which Guate- malan grant-holders have gone to study on a wide range of special- ized training courses which Israeli instructors have given here in a broad variety of productive activi- ties." Kibbutzim in the Franja The majority of these exchange study programs have centered on the agrarian sector. Representa- tives of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) inter- viewed in Mexico City believe that agriculture holds the key to Israel's current role. In it, they see an in terlocking mosaic of assistance programs-weapons to help the Guatemalan Army crush opposi- NACLA Reportupdate update update update tion and lay waste to the country- side, security and intelligence ad- vice to control the local popula- tion and agrarian development models to construct on the ashes of the highlands. Collaboration began under the regime of Gen. Kjell Laugerud Garcia (1974-1978) when the Gua- temalan Army first showed inter- est in cooperatives as a limited means of defusing rural tensions. Col. Fernando Castillo Ram[rez, director of the National Coopera- tive Institute-and at the same time an expert pilot of the Arava counterinsurgency plane-trav- eled to Israel in 1977 and flew back impressed with the kibbutz system. He was joined by Leonel Gir6n, in charge of colonization programs in the Franja Transver- sal del Norte, the vast northern area scheduled for infrastructural development and land settlement by the military regimes of the 1970s.* In return, Israeli advisers arrived in Guatemala to plan civic action programs in the conflictive Ixcsn area, heartland of support for the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) and scene of constant mili- tary repression of local coopera- tive members. Nineteen seventy-eight saw the initiation of a two-year program of grants for Guatemalan officials to study cooperativization and rural development under the auspices of the Israeli Foreign Ministry's In- ternational Cooperation Division. A steady stream of planners, economists and credit managers flowed from the National Agricul- tural Development Bank, the Gen- eral Directorate of Agrarian Ser- vices and the National Institute of Agrarian Transformation. The Lucas regime proved par- ticularly interested in Israel's Re- hovot land settlement center. Here were workable models of rural de- velopment which avoided the need for agrarian reform. Colonization projects in the occupied territories were carried out under strict mili- tary supervision, expressly de- signed to colonize and redevelop infertile lands, often clashing with the wishes of a hostile local popu- lation. Some elements of the Is- raeli kibbutz and the cash-crop moshav found their way into Lucas Garcia's abortive "Integral Plan of Rural Communities," a 1979 pro- gram for agricultural development in highland zones affected by the guerrilla insurgency. Massacres & Frozen Broccoli Under the Rios Montt regime's "Plan of Assistance to Conflict Areas" (PAAC), launched in Au- gust 1982, the Israeli model is more explicit. The Guatemalan military also acknowledges that the PAAC is based on coopera- tives in Taiwan and the agricultural communes of South Korea, two other staunch U.S. allies which have provided object lessons in efficient land use in heavily mili- tarized societies. But in a recent interview,* PAAC Director Col. Eduardo Wohlers admitted that Israel was the main source of in- spiration: "Many of our technicians are Israeli trained. The model of the kibbutz and the moshav is planted firmly in their minds. And personally I think it would be fas- cinating to turn our highlands into that kind of system." Many observers point to deeper parallels between the actions of the Guatemalan Army in the Indian highlands and Israeli tactics in the West Bank and other occupied *On the Franja. see "Garrison Guatemala," *The author has visited Guatemala three NACLA Report on the Americas (Jan-Feb times in the last year This interview was 1983). pp 11-15 conducted in March May/June 1983 territories. Armed village commit- tees in Israeli settlements prefigure Guatemala's ubiquitous Civil De- fense Patrols. Like the Israelis, the Guatemalan Army has designated tame local mayors from indige- nous communities. One Catholic priest interviewed in Guatemala in March believes that even the pro- motion of Catholic-evangelical factionalism in an effort to divide and conquer communities is the result of Israeli advice, based on the successful exploitation of ri- valries between Christian, Moslem and Druze communities in Leba- non. After the devastating Plan Vic- toria 82 counterinsurgency cam- paign, Guatemala's military plan- ners are shaping an ambitious long-term agrarian scheme for the highlands. In Col. Wohlers' words, they are seeking nothing less than "the definitive transfor- mation of the face of the Indian highlands. We foresee huge plan- tations of fruit and vegetables, with storage and processing facil- ities and refrigeration plants. We aim to put in the entire infrastruc- ture for exporting frozen broccoli, Chinese cabbage, watermelon ... a total of fifteen new export crops." But the Colonel recognizes that only large infusions of foreign aid will fuel his dream of a little Israel in the altiplano. He confirmed that the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) has given an informal green light to the export crop plan. AID officials in Guate- mala City unofficially agree that a favorable decision on the aid is likely later this year. If an already skeptical Congress makes the link between Israeli guns, Indian mas- sacres and frozen broccoli, then Reagan's attempt to throw a life- line to the Rios Montt dictatorship looks set for further battles.

Tags: Israel, arms trade, US foreign policy, repression, Guatemala

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