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
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
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-
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-
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
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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