The conviction of Rios Montt for genocide in Guatemala during his short rule (1982-1983) has brought that episode back into the news. The death toll during the Guatemalan civil war was estimated at 200,000 by a UN commission, with the overwhelming majority of these casualties (93 percent) committed by the army, though only a portion during the reign of Rios Montt. The record is one of mass slaughter, mass rape, and possibly the worst human rights violation in the Western Hemisphere in the last 50 years.
As anyone who followed human rights issues back then knows, the Reagan Administration supported the Guatemalan regime, with Reagan personally defending the dictator, claiming that he had “great personal integrity and commitment.” Elliott Abrams also claimed that the human rights situation was improving–precisely when it was at its worst.
The Guatemalan regime had many supporters–the Reagan Administration, the Christian Right, and several other countries, including Israel, Taiwan, and the fascist regimes in Argentina and Chile (see the NYT).
Politics makes strange bedfellows: the Argentinian regime was notoriously anti-semitic, and yet Israel and Argentina both played a role in supporting the murderous rightwing forces in Central America. Israel supported Somoza* and the contras, and notably, the Guatemalan military.
The history here seems to support the notion that during the Cold War Israel did serve as a “useful” ally to the US, if one considers military aid to some of our most murderous allies “useful”.
*For Somoza: (“Our Own Backyard: The US in Central America, 1977-1992 ” by William LeoGrande, page 24)