What we're up against
(lessons from Guatemala - 1980s)
[& the Israeli connection to Central America]
by Mickey Z
www.zmag.org, December 5, 2006
There are many battles being fought in
the name of social justice...some more pitched than others. In
general, however, these struggles do not result in victory thanks
to a petition, a candlelight vigil, or a ballot pull. In other
words, those seeking peace, justice, and solidarity should never
underestimate the relentless and brutal power of what they are
up against. I am reminded of this every time I re-read "Bridge
of Courage: Life Stories of the Guatemalan Compañeros and
Compañeras," (Common Courage Press, 1995) an amazing
book by Jennifer Harbury.
Guatemala (a nation perched on the border of Chiapas, Mexico)
is an easy place to overlook. Therefore, if we were to trust the
corporate media, our knowledge would be limited to ill-informed,
racist diatribes like this from Clifford Krauss of The New York
Times (April 9, 1995): "Guatemala required neither Karl Marx
nor the Central Intelligence Agency to be consumed by class and
ethnic war, and ... The Guatemalan army, currently in the news
because some of its officers received secret CIA payments, is
essentially finishing the job that the conquistadors started.
The cross and the sword may have been replaced by modern counterinsurgency
tactics, but the essential driving forces of Guatemalan history
remain the same ... the fact remains that Guatemalans do not need
prompting to kill one another."
Krauss went on to tell of chickens "sacrificed...to...pre-Columbian
gods" and "bizarre" religious cults (Krauss' tactics
are indeed for those seeking to absolve the U.S. from any culpability
in the wanton destruction of a people). While admitting CIA complicity
in the 1954 coup that saw the end of Jacobo Arbenz, Krauss is
quick to remind us "modern Guatemalan political history began
not with the coup of 1954."
He has a point. It was at a February 1945 conference that State
Department Political Advisor Laurence Duggan called for "An
Economic Charter of the Americas," complaining that "Latin
Americans are convinced that the first beneficiaries of the development
of a country's resources should be the people of that country."
From this unacceptable premise, the seeds of the 1954 coup were
sown, and the U.S.-sponsored results include possibly irreversible
environmental devastation and upwards of 200,000 civilians killed
In a landslide victory, Jacobo Arbenz was freely and fairly elected
president of Guatemala in 1951. Wishing to transform his country,
Arbenz' modest reforms and his legalizing of the Communist Party
were frowned upon in American business circles. The Arbenz government
became the target of a U.S. public relations campaign. Two years
after Arbenz became president, Life magazine featured a piece
on his "Red" land reforms, claiming that a nation just
"two hours bombing time from the Panama Canal" was "openly
and diligently toiling to create a Communist state." It matters
little that the USSR didn't even maintain diplomatic relations
with Guatemala; the Cold War was in full effect. Ever on the lookout
for that invaluable pretext, the U.S. business class scored a
public relations coup when Arbenz expropriated some unused land
controlled by United Fruit Company. His payment offer was predictably
deemed inappropriate. "If they gave a gold piece for every
banana," Secretary of State John Foster Dulles clarified,
"the problem would still be Communist infiltration."
The CIA put Operation Success into action. "A legally elected
government was overthrown by an invasion force of mercenaries
trained by the CIA at military bases in Honduras and Nicaragua
and supported by four American fighter planes flown by American
pilots," explains Howard Zinn. Operation Success ushered
in 40 years of repression, more than 200,000 deaths, and what
William Blum calls "indisputably one of the most inhumane
chapters of the 20th century." These chapters could never
have been written without permission from the United States and
its proxies, e.g. Israel.
"The Israelis may be seen as American proxies in Honduras
and Guatemala," stated Israeli journalist, Yoav Karni in
Yediot Ahronot. Also, Ha'aretz correspondent Gidon Samet has explained
that the most important features of the U.S.-Israeli strategic
cooperation in the 1980s were not in the Middle East, but with
Central America. "The U.S. needs Israel in Africa and Latin
America, among other reasons, because of the government's difficulties
in obtaining congressional authorization for its ambitious aid
programs and naturally, for military actions," Gamet wrote
on November 6, 1983, adding that America has "long been interested
in using Israel as a pipeline for military and other aid"
to Central America. Earlier that same year, Yosef Priel reported
in Davar that Latin America "has become the leading market
for Israeli arms exports."
Who are these governments so willingly snapping up weapons manufactured
in the Holy Land? One illustrative example is, yes, Guatemala.
In 1981, shortly after Israel agreed to provide military aid to
this oppressive regime, a Guatemalan officer had a feature article
published in the army's Staff College review. In that article,
the officer praised Adolf Hitler, National Socialism, and the
Final Solution-quoting extensively from "Mein Kampf"
and chalking up Hitler's anti-Semitism to the "discovery"
that communism was part of a "Jewish conspiracy." Despite
such seemingly incompatible ideology, Israel's estimated military
assistance to Guatemala in 1982 was $90 million.
What type of policies did the Guatemalan government pursue with
the help they received from a nation populated with thousands
of Holocaust survivors? This question brings us back to Harbury's
book...a book filled with the "inhumane chapters" Blum
mentions. One member of the Guatemalan resistance Harbury interviewed
was Lorena and her story provides a good example of what happens
in a U.S. client state (with Israeli help).
Lorena's lover, a compañero named Daniel, was out with
a small unit to engage Guatemalan soldiers when he was hit by
enemy fire. Lorena tells what happened next: "The other compañeros
ran to where Daniel had fallen and found him dying there, quiet
but very clear-minded. He refused to let them try and bandage
him up, telling them to first go and find the others who had a
chance of surviving. The he gave away the things in his pack,
the food, the blanket, his small book. He writing a note, shaken
but determined, when they left him. The note was for me, but I
never received it."
When Lorena learned of Daniel's injuries, she and a comrade named
Roberto ran to find him. "Roberto and I arrived, breathless,
at the place where he had left Daniel," Lorena said, "but
at first we could see nothing." When Roberto tried to shield
her from looking in on particular direction, Lorena broke away
to see. "Daniel was not there," she said. "His
body had vanished, with his pack, his boots, his book, and the
note for me. There on the ground lay only his brain, bloody and
intact." Lorena concluded: "The soldiers had found Daniel
(Aside: Can anyone imagine Americans organizing under such onerous
conditions? We throw a hissy fit if someone brings 11 items to
the supermarket express lane.)
As another resistance fighter in "Bridge of Courage"
explained: "Don't talk to me about Gandhi; he wouldn't have
survived a week here."
Similar stories can be culled from countries throughout the region,
but apparently have had little effect on the foreign policy of
the U.S. or Israel. For example, when Israel faced an international
arms embargo after the 1967 war, a plan to divert Belgian and
Swiss arms to the Holy Land was implemented. These weapons were
supposedly destined for Bolivia where they would be transported
by a company managed by Klaus Barbie. As in "The Butcher
Any moral reservations of such an arrangement are dismissed with
a vague "national security" excuse that should sound
familiar to any American. "The welfare of our people and
the state supersedes all other considerations," pronounced
Michael Schur, director of Ta'as, the Israeli state military industry
in the August 23, 1983 Ha'aretz. "If the state has decided
in favor of export, my conscience is clear."
One Jewish figure that might be expected to find fault with such
policy is Elie Wiesel. An episode from mid-1985, documented by
Yoav Karni in Ha'aretz, should put to rest any exalted expectations
of the revered moralist. When Wiesel received a letter from a
Nobel Prize laureate documenting Israel's contributions to the
atrocities in Guatemala, suggesting that he use his considerable
influence to put a stop to Israel's practice of arming neo-Nazis,
Wiesel "sighed" and admitted to Karni that he did not
reply to that particular letter. "I usually answer at once,"
he explained, "but what can I answer to him?"
One is left to only wonder how Wiesel's silent sigh might have
been received if it was in response to a letter not about Jewish
complicity in the murder of Guatemalans but instead about the
function of Auschwitz during the 40s.
In 1951, Guatemalan president Juan José Arévalo
(whose term gave that country a ten-year respite from military
rule during which he provoked U.S. ire by modeling his government
"in many ways after the Roosevelt New Deal") stepped
down to be replaced by his ill-fated successor and kindred spirit,
the aforementioned Arbenz. This to what Arévalo had to
say about the aftermath of a war known as "good": "The
arms of the Third Reich were broken and conquered ... but in the
ideological dialogue ...the real winner was Hitler."
Never forget: This is what we're up against.