by: Kathy DeGagne, BFP Staff Writer
In a global climate that often sees Israel isolated and maligned on the international stage, there is a country that has consistently shown itself to be Israel’s friend. Some may be surprised to learn that the country is the small Latin American nation of Guatemala.
Scarred by civil war, numerous coups and drug violence, Guatemala appears to be an unlikely ally for Israel, but the historical ties between the two nations are strong and seemingly unbreakable.
Guatemala was one of only nine nations to oppose the United Nations (UN) resolution to condemn the United States (US) for the decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Then Guatemala took an even stronger stand, boldly declaring that its embassy would also move to Jerusalem just two days behind the US. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced the move and explained to a critical world that US President Donald Trump’s decision encouraged Guatemala to do “what was right.”
Seventy years before, in 1947, Israel had Guatemala to thank for lobbying strongly at the UN for the creation of a Jewish state. The Guatemalan ambassador at the time, Jorge García-Granados, spearheaded the lobby as a member of the UN Special Committee on Palestine.
In spite of the ambassador’s best efforts, political intrigue and jealousy prevailed in the process, and Israel ultimately had to fight a costly battle for its own independence. Nevertheless, García-Granados was convinced nationhood for the Jews was essential and steered the direction of the process at the UN as best he could towards a favorable decision for the Jewish people. He encouraged other Latin American countries to come alongside. On May 14, 1948, Guatemala was the second in line behind the United States to recognize the establishment of the State of Israel.
García-Granados observed in his book, The Birth of Israel—The Drama as I Saw It: “…[The Jewish] state did not come to them as a gift: they created it at the price of great struggle, in the same way in which every people throughout history has won freedom.”
Guatemala is a nation of spectacular beauty, straddling the Central American Isthmus and bordered by Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Mexico, with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Thirty-seven lofty volcanoes punctuate its landscape, three of them still active. Lush jungles, coffee fields, Mayan ruins and Spanish colonial architecture draw scores of sightseers seeking adventure in the tropical countryside. They are warmly greeted by the Guatemalan people, who are as vibrant and colorful as their indigenous culture.
However, scenic nature can turn deadly and volcanic eruptions have frequently shaken the country. Because of its location between two bodies of water, Guatemala has also experienced damaging hurricanes.
But the nation has suffered violent shakings far more destructive than natural disasters. It has struggled under the effects of war and political upheaval for centuries, leaving deep scars in a nation that barely has time to heal between conflicts.
Spanish conquistadores came to Guatemalan shores in the 1500s and brought disease and slaughter with them. Political upheaval, military coups, disease and a civil war that started in the 1960s and lasted almost 40 years have all contributed to the debilitating troubles that Guatemala experiences now. Recent widespread violence, drug cartels and other deadly crimes have almost brought the country to its knees.
The heart of this beautiful Central American nation has started to beat again with Israel’s help. Beholden to Guatemala’s historic friendship, Israel has always been the first nation to offer Guatemala aid and support in disasters. In a country that struggles to maintain personal and national safety, Israel’s expertise in security is a welcome contribution. Israelis have come to Guatemala to set up cybersecurity companies, infrastructure and geothermal power companies to help Guatemalans modernize their nation. Israelis have also provided Guatemala with leading-edge water management solutions and agricultural technology.
The deeply rooted connection between Israel and Guatemala can be hard to define, but may stem from similar challenges each has faced throughout their history. Both nations have endured significant danger and oppression. Guatemala has suffered under the Spanish conquistadores, despotic leaders, drug cartels and crime bosses, and the loss of life and property has been considerable. Israel has suffered under the Romans, Muslims, the Ottoman Empire, the Nazis and the Palestinians—who have done their best to deprive the Jewish people of their lives and their land.
Israel’s faith in an ideal that would lead them to ultimate triumph inspired García-Granados to write: “Faith is stronger than material force, and in the final battle, he conquers who fights for what he knows is just and right.”
Like Israel, Guatemalans were primarily agriculturalists trying to redeem a wasteland in order to modernize and prosper. Israelis, with the technological know-how developed through decades of trying to redeem a desert, could show them the way.
In Israel, the Guatemalan leaders saw economic transformation at its finest, done by industrious men and women infused with a vision for their country. For García-Granados, Israel’s emergence from impossible odds served as proof that his nation of Guatemala could do the same.
From that momentous moment in history 70 years ago when Israel experienced rebirth, Israelis and Guatemalans would walk hand-in-hand, fused together by a shared spirit of courage and joy in the face of adversity, a fervent desire for peace and freedom and a strong sense of justice—friends who would thereafter stick closer than brothers.
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