From A World to Win News Service:
Israel has had a warm relationship with Guatemala since its inception. The Guatemalan ambassador to the UN and a member of the UN Special Committee on Palestine Jorge Garcia Granados supported the Zionist cause and called on the government to support the creation of the Israeli state in 1948. To the present day, Guatemala votes in favour of Israel on important UN resolutions. Both governments are united in their special interest in counter-insurgency. Israeli military assistance took on increased importance in 1977 when then-U.S. president Jimmy Carter tried to publicly distance the U.S. from Guatemala's open brutality.
While the U.S. does not dictate policies to Israel, Israel often pursues policies that serve American interests and objectives especially when it is difficult politically for the U.S. to do so. As a former head of the Knesset foreign relations committee said, when asked about the Israeli-Guatemalan relationship: ''Israel is a pariah state. When people ask us for something, we cannot afford to ask questions about ideology. The only type of regime that Israel would not aid would be one that is anti-American. Also, if we can aid a country that it may be inconvenient for the U.S. to help, we would be cutting off our nose to spite our face not to.'' (See the May-June 1986 issue of Middle East Report, http://www.merip.org/mer/mer140/israel-guatemala, for detailed research on Israel's role in Guatemala).
A secondary aspect for Israel's interest in Guatemala has been economic – the need for external markets for weapons and foreign weapons production. The export of arms has helped sustain production in Israel at full capacity, facilitating strategic planning and stockpiling, assuring supplies when needed, and permitting scarce resources to be spent on science, technology, research and development to maintain Israel's qualitative edge militarily. Weapons transfers represent a fifth of Israel's industrial exports and one tenth of all exports. By 1983 factories were set up for munitions production in Guatemala. Technical support has also been given to Guatemala. Israel set up a computer centre in Guatemala City to register and monitor the country's inhabitants. Some researchers claim the centre and its data bank were linked to the U.S. Army's Southern Command then located at Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone.
It is also said that in the summer of 1981, sophisticated Argentine computer analysis methods (using Israeli hardware) played a crucial role in the detection and raiding of 27 guerrilla safe houses in Guatemala City. Amnesty International says this computer system was an integral part of terrorizing Guatemalans. Israel also exported retired military officers to Guatemala. Many were experts in the "art" of repression and collective punishment. (May-June 1986, merip.org) Israel's influence in Guatemala can even be seen through the proliferation around the country of gas stations and convenience stores with Israel-friendly Hebrew names like "Adonai" and "Shalom".
But U.S. advisers still played a major role in the "pacification" of the Guatemalan countryside. The objective was total control of the civilian population without disrupting the holdings of the large landowners. People were removed to "model" villages where they would eventually be turned into a labour force for industrial production. Villagers were forced to participate in patrols to suppress and inform on others who had revolutionary inclinations.
One can only wonder where this condemning evidence will lead or why these legal proceedings are taking place now when these criminals are already old. Only a few such criminals have actually been sent to prison. Does it only happen after the U.S. decides these mass murders are no longer useful for continued American domination? Several brutal strongmen come to mind, like Chile's Pinochet, the Shah of Iran and Mubarak in Egypt, to name only a few.
What happened in Guatemala was not that people were caught in a crossfire between two sides. It was not "collateral damage". It was a systematic murder of a people – genocide. The guilty verdict for Rios Montt is definitely welcome.